What you eat can affect how you feel, which in turn impacts your concentration and ability to get things done; useful when you’re at work and need to perform. However, despite what some people will have you believe food isn’t a cure all – celery juice can’t treat depression and kale won’t necessarily make you leap out of bed in the morning.
Nonetheless, there are many ways that foods can affect how we feel, and this in turn impacts the decisions we make around what foods we choose. What can we do to help us feel our best, enable us to make the best choices, give us the energy we need to get through the day and support our mental health? Let’s look at three nutritional influences.
Eating regular meals:
· Our brain needs an adequate supply of energy for us to be able to concentrate and make good decisions, in fact 20% of the entire body’s energy needs is for the brain. The energy is delivered in the form of blood glucose, and we get this from the carbohydrates we eat - yes carbs.
· Choose wholegrain versions – think brown over white, natural rather than processed, as well as fruit & veg, dairy and pulses. This will help provide a steadier release of energy. If you go too long without eating, follow restrictive eating habits or do extreme exercise you blood glucose levels can drop affecting your ability to focus, making you feel dizzy and can lower your mood
Top tip: Factor in time for lunch; have a fistful of wholegrain carbs, two fistfuls of veg, and a palm full of protein. If you can sit down, eat away from your desk and factor in a 10-minute walk, well then, you’re totally winning at life.
· You can use caffeine strategically to improve alertness and reduce feelings of fatigue – useful when you’re heading into a long meeting or needing to get a report finished. You can however have too much of a good thing, which may increase feelings of irritability and anxiousness. One to two cups of coffee a day is ok, surviving on coffee and energy drinks all day definitely isn’t going make you feel good.
· We process caffeine at different rates, this is determined by our genes, and some people are more sensitive than others. This can affect sleep, mood, performance. So, if you know a coffee after midday means no sleep that night make sure you switch to decaff or herbal tea
Top tip: Watch out for things you may not associate with caffeine like cola and chocolate – giving these a miss also means you’ll cut down on sugar and fat.
· Mild dehydration, just 1-2% below optimal levels can affect mood and concentration levels. Try to be proactive with drinking, as by the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, enough for your mood and function to be affected.
· Water is our best (and cheapest) option but herbal teas, soups count as do tea, coffee and juice – just watch your caffeine intake and limit your juice to one small glass a day.
Top tip: I’m pretty rubbish at drinking anything but tea, which does still count to your daily fluid intake, but I do feel better when I drink more water. Just having a bottle on my desk doesn’t sometimes isn’t enough to encourage me to drink more. Having a big glass before lunch, dinner and first thing in the morning works, as does an alert on my phone – when I remember. Knowing and doing are different things ! If you have any top tips, please share.