In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing work environment, people too often embrace unhealthy habits–like losing sleep and skipping meals–as signs of productivity. The adverse effects of these habits on one’s mental and physical health are seen as unavoidable casualties in a world where almost everyone is tired and stressed out during the workweek. But does it have to be this way?
Recent studies have uncovered the truth about how our daily diets manipulate our brain chemistry. It starts with breakfast: no matter how busy you are, taking time to eat a morning meal can put a positive spin on your entire day. Research by the University of Bath and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that eating breakfast stabilizes blood sugar levels and increases physical activity.
Breakfast also helps prevent type 2 diabetes. Because job stress boosts glucose levels, women who work full time are at greater risk of developing diabetes if they skip breakfast every day. And a study by the University of Milan indicates that a simple morning meal can enhance your verbal abilities, reasoning skills, and creativity throughout the workday. Nutritious breakfast choices include oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts, egg whites, and breakfast burritos with fresh vegetables and protein-rich black beans.
Scientists suggest consuming small meals over the course of the day instead of sticking to the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These big meals burden the digestive system, and once digestion is finished, blood sugar levels plummet and your mood bottoms out. Split each of the three big meals in half; six smaller meals are ideal for curbing hunger and speeding up metabolism.
It’s not just how often you eat, it’s what you eat. Sugary treats from the vending machine might seem like the perfect pick-me-up, but they’re deceiving your brain. Junk food creates surges of dopamine–the neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward–then causes mood swings and fatigue. Sugar consumption increases stress hormones, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
The presence of a cafeteria in the workplace encourages healthy choices that make employees happier in the long run. Instead of reaching for the sweets, employees can grab a high protein snack–something as simple as a cheese stick, or baby carrots with hummus. Protein stabilizes blood sugar and sustains energy. Purple berries (like blackberries and blueberries) provide anthocyanin, a mood-boosting pigment. And there’s a reason bananas are beloved by endurance athletes–they pack 10 milligrams of dopamine apiece, ensuring a mental high without the crash. Depression-fighting fatty acid DHA appears in salad staples walnuts and spinach. With these and other “brain foods” within reach, eating well at work doesn’t have to be complicated.
The all-too-common combination of hard work and poor health can lead to early burnout, but there is a solution. When employees can count on delicious, healthy options at work, they are likely to starting eating right outside of work as well, improving their overall quality of life. High morale and a sense of community are two crucial ingredients for top-quality performance, and a nutritious workplace cafeteria can be the key to both.