Eating habits can have an alarming impact on our overall well-being. Brain activity, mood and energy can be significantly influenced both positively and negatively by what we put into our bodies. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that food has a direct impact on our productivity at work as well as job-related performance. Our focus has always been on working harder, but there’s something to be said for working smarter. A key consideration and a question that we should ask ourselves more often than we do is, how should how we fuel our bodies to be more productive? The proverbial ‘they’ say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While that may very well be true, healthy lunches, dinners and snacks are still incredibly important to keep our minds sharp, our energy high and our productivity at a maximum.
Snacking is typically the ‘meal’ of the day where people go wrong. Common pitfalls are overeating and consuming the wrong thing. While the heavily advertised and commercialized granola bars may be convenient, they are typically high in simple sugars. They spike our blood sugar for an immediate energy boost, followed by a crash – leaving us feeling lethargic and unsatisfied.
So, what does a healthy snack look like? Dried fruits and nuts rank very high in our books for a plethora of reasons.
Steady Stream of Energy
Although the brain isn’t considered a muscle, it requires lots of energy to function properly. The more complex or challenging the task, the more energy that will be expended. A steady stream of energy is required for optimal brain functioning. Snacks, like dried fruits and nuts are an excellent choice because they release glucose (the sugar that fuels our mind) gradually, compared to highly processed foods, which as we mentioned contribute to energy dips shortly after they are consumed. Dried fruits stabilize our blood sugar levels as they contain fructose (naturally occurring sugar in fruit), which has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar, meaning it is absorbed much slower. Nuts, which are high in protein and good fats, keep us fueled much longer than any other food because their complex structures takes much longer to digest.
When we are happier, we work much harder. A recent study found that happy people are roughly 12% more productive. Fruits are a natural mood enhancer. They contain nutrients that facilitate the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in happiness and mood regulation. Magnesium, vitamin B6 and potassium specifically found in many fruits and nuts are also key drivers behind mood enhancement and superior cognitive functioning.
Dark fruits such as pomegranates, blackberries and blueberries contain anthocyanidins, which are a red, violet or blue pigment found in plants. These flavonoid phytochemicals play a role in memory loss prevention. Walnuts are also widely considered to be a brain food. Their properties (high in omega-6’s, omega-3’s and vitamin E) may augment the effects of dark berries if eaten together. With an improved memory, we are inherently more productive.
Stress eating can be a nasty habit. The negative snack/stress cycle is vicious and can have many consequences. Dried fruits and nuts on the other hand have the intrinsic ability to reduce stress levels, which as a result will allow us to be more focused and productive; win-win! Dried citrus fruits that are high in vitamin C has been found to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. Pistachios are high in healthy fats, fiber and antioxidants, promoting blood vessel dilation in stressful situations. Cashews are high in magnesium, which we know to be an essential mineral in regulating the nervous system. Though a small amount of stress can actually be beneficial in boosting productivity, there is a fine line between a healthy level vs a debilitating feeling of stress that impairs our thought processes, physiological reactions and productivity.
If you (and your brain) want to be operating at their best, then nutrient-dense, vitamin and mineral rich dried fruits and nuts are the way to go. High-sugar and calorie-ridden foods like candy and pizza, that are full of trans fats, set our digestive systems into overdrive. The amount of oxygen required to breakdown these foods reduces the amount going to our brain. This leads to feelings of sleepiness, sluggishness, and poor productivity.
Although it seems like common sense that healthy food would boost our productivity, when we look at the different pathways that food can elevate or drastically lower one’s productivity, the actual impact it can have is astounding. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and grab a handful.
The Author: Daina Kenins
Daina is a lover of all things health & wellness related; a health food connoisseur, an avid marathon runner, a certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher and a spin studio manager. She is ambassador for healthy eating and loves to create and share recipes on her instagram page @thepaleobean.