Brain-Boosting Foods To Improve Your Work Performance
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we need five portions of fruit and veg, and it’s important to eat when we’re hungry. Yet the majority of us skip breakfast — awaiting the inevitable embarrassment of a growling stomach in the morning meeting. No doubt it is harder to concentrate when you’re fantasising about food porn. But by lunchtime, the food coma hits and you’re feeling even less productive; this makes us wonder if what we’re eating has an impact on our productivity levels.
We’ve heard it all before, the so-called “superfoods” and “energy-bars” designed to make you feel more alert. But are they myth or science?
Over the years, research has shown that there are indeed certain foods (mostly natural ones) that are high in particular vitamins and nutrients, which metabolise into higher energy and productiveness. So, without further ado, these are the snacks you need to help you stay sharp at your desk!
Feeling Berry Awake
It’s no surprise that blueberries and strawberries make their way on this list. Blueberries are high in flavonoids — a natural compound found in plants which increases blood and oxygen to the brain. They are also known to produce antioxidants in humans. A study from the University of Reading also found that flavonoids improve memory performance and concentration.
A similar study by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging has found that strawberries possess similar properties, and improve both cognition and mobility in humans. Not only do these berries enhance your performance, but they also contain antioxidants that help prevent neurodegenerative diseases like memory loss. Double whammy!
A brew-tiful day
Coffee and Green Tea are the best brews to give you an energy boost and help you feel alert. Studies show that caffeine enhances work performance and cognitive functions, like memory, concentration and problem solving; it also maintains energy levels to power through that 9–5 day. But coffee is best drank black — without sugar or milk to prevent that quick high. However, Green Tea produces less caffeine than coffee (approx. 24–40mg) but also contains L-Theanine, which when combined with caffeine, improves brain function and the ability to focus.
Often considered a health food, nuts are the perfect snack to keep you feeling fresh. Pecans are a source of vitamin B3, which helps you to metabolise and digest foods, also converting it into energy that boosts productiveness.
Similarly, research shows that almonds are a brain-food that contain a low-glycaemic index (GI), which basically stabilise your blood sugar levels rather than spiking and suppressing appetite. They are also high in magnesium and Vitamin B2, which are nutrients essential to breaking down fats to produce energy. Walnuts are also considered a top energy food, helping cognitive functions — it even looks like a brain!
Either grab a handful of nuts when you’re feeling peckish or in a rush, maybe even buy some nut butter to spread on wholegrain toast. And I’m sure coffee and walnut cake is fine, right?
We all hated that colleague who brought fish into the office and stank it out. Now that we’re all WFH, you can eat as much stinky fish as you please! The best are those high in Omega-3 and B6 like salmon, mackerel and tuna. Oily fishes like salmon enhance neurological functions and are directly absorbed into the brain (which is made up of 60% fat). Without essential healthy fats in your diet, brain function declines, leaving you feeling sleepy and unenergetic. Similarly, tuna contains 69% of your daily dose of B6 — the vitamin directly associated with motivation and mood. Thanks to lockdown, there’s never been a better time to eat more fish!
I’m only gonna say this once — stop avoiding carbs! Limiting your daily carbohydrate intake means less glucose, which is your brain’s best friend. However complex carbs like quinoa, oats, wholemeal bread (yes, BREAD) and brown rice, are high in magnesium, selenium and B-vitamins. All of which are essential to regulate blood-sugar levels and enhance blood supply to the brain. These carb-rich foods serve to refuel your energy and keep you focused at work. Whole grains are generally better than refined versions (like white bread etc.) which usually cause that post-lunch slump and leave you feeling more tired.
What a Banana!
We always see athletes demolish a banana before the race — why? Because it’s high in potassium, vitamin B6 and magnesium. This contributes to higher energy levels and elevated mood — leaving you feeling ready to take on the day ahead. Bananas are easy and quick to digest; therefore, you’re not wasting energy metabolising food but on the task at hand.
These foods are easy to incorporate into your diet and are relatively finance-friendly. You can get creative and combine them into your daily meals. Make sure you keep snacks in reach to stop those hunger pangs that attack your energy levels! If you were looking for ways to boost your productivity, these superfoods seem like a no-brainer…
Written by Naida Allen
Naida is a Criminology and Psychology graduate who is passionate about promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. She is a creative writer/blogger and runs an online platform with a close friend called ‘Confidently Anxious’ — which aims to help others struggling with their mental health by sharing personal stories and coping tips. She currently volunteers as a Peer Mentor for young persons.