You are what you eat – an expression we have all heard before. But have you ever wondered what impact your diet has on your mental health, emotions and cognitive functioning? Let’s take look at how your daily diet affects not only your physical activities but also your cognitive functions. In other words – how can your nutrition help you stay on top of your professional game?
Our diet forms the basis for optimal performance and excellent mental health, so we can’t function at our best without the essential nutrients. A healthy, balanced diet with a variety of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins not only ensures a healthy weight and a reduction in the risk of chronic diseases, but also improves our cognitive functions, and those are essential to perform on our daily job.
How can I ensure that I can stay focused not only in the morning but also in the evening?
Well, it is scientifically proven that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, for example, salmon and nuts, bring about positive effects on both your memory and your attention span. When you add in the necessary complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains and legumes, for example, you can maintain your energy levels throughout the day and thus avoid dips in concentration and productivity.
Also try to avoid processed foods, refined sugars and saturated fats as much as possible as these can cause inflammation in the body and brain, which can lead to brain fog, concentration disorders and reduced productivity. So everything you want to avoid during a working day.
My job brings a lot of stress, can my diet help me deal with this?
Since this stress brings a lot of negative consequences, both physical and mental, it is important to deal with it appropriately. The right diet can help you cope with these stress levels. For example, foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries and a lot of herbs (cinnamon, mint, turmeric, etc.) can help you reduce oxidative stress in the body. Additionally, consuming foods high in magnesium, such as almonds and dark chocolate, can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Throughout the working day, I often feel hungry, how can I avoid this?
To avoid feeling hungry during your working day in a healthy way, it is important to prioritize proper nutrition and hydration. This means starting your day with a balanced breakfast that includes complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein to provide sustained energy throughout the morning. Throughout the day, aim to eat small, frequent meals and snacks that also incorporate these macronutrients. Drinking plenty of water is also essential to help stave off hunger, as dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger. Additionally, make sure to incorporate plenty of fibre-rich fruits and vegetables into your diet, as these can help you feel fuller for longer periods of time. Finally, be mindful of the types of snacks you choose, opting for healthy options like nuts, fresh fruit, and whole grain crackers instead of processed, high-sugar options.
After a series of meetings, I often feel exhausted. Can I avoid this feeling through my diet?
It is perfectly normal to feel a bit sluggish after a cognitively demanding effort. But by making a few adjustments to your diet, you can minimise such feelings. For example, if you have scheduled meetings in the morning, take the time for a balanced breakfast. Think for instance of whole-wheat toast with avocado and egg, or Greek yoghurt with berries and a handful of almonds. In advance, try to avoid sugary foods or foods with processed carbohydrates as much as possible as they cause a rapid spike, but also a rapid drop in your blood sugar levels. Not only physical performance suffers, but so does your cognitive ability.
If you haven’t had time to eat a balanced breakfast in the morning, after your meetings, try to re-supply your body with the necessary nutrients that boost your brain functions and recovery. Foods rich in protein and healthy fats form the basis here, for example, chicken or tofu with brown rice or sweet potato combined with some avocado or nuts. Such meals provide your brain with the energy it needs to perform at its peak.
I have noticed that I drink very little water throughout the day, could my cognitive performance suffer from this?
Definitely. Dehydration triggers a reduced blood volume, which causes reduced blood flow to the brain. This reduced blood flow will obviously have an impact on your brain’s ability to perform optimally. Thus, even mild dehydration will have negative consequences; your attention span will decrease, your memory will deteriorate and your responsiveness and decision-making will drop. Headaches, fatigue and mood swings are also just some of the many negative consequences.
So drink enough water throughout the day, especially during periods of physical or cognitive exertion. As for the amount of water, it strongly depends on factors such as body size, level of exertion, climate, and amount of fluid you get through solid food, but it is generally believed that you should drink an average of 1.5l of water per day.
It is clear that the right nutrition is essential not only to achieve top performance at work but also to promote/maintain your mental health. By focusing on a balanced, healthy diet and drinking enough water, you can optimise your diet and have the necessary energy and focus to achieve your professional goals.
Of course, nutrition is only one of the many aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Sufficient exercise remains indispensable to promote your cognitive functions and mental health. But be sure not to underestimate the power of nutrition to help you stay on top of your game.
- N. Parletta, D. Zarnowiecki, J. Cho, A. Wilson, S. Bogomolova, A. Villani, B.J. Meyer. A Mediterranean-style Dietary Intervention Supplemented with Fish Oil Improves Diet Quality and Mental Health in People with Depression: a Randomized Controlled Trial. 2017. Nutritional Neuroscience.
- G. Grosso, A. Pajak, S. Marvetano, S. Castellano, F. Galvano, C. Bucolo, F. Caraci. Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depressive disorders: a comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. 2014. PloS one.
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- D.J. Lamport, C. Saunders, L.T. Butler, J.P. Spencer. Fruits, vegetables, 100% juices, and cognitive function. 2014. Nutrition reviews.