Let’s try an exercise: make a list of everything you eat throughout the day.
Take a look at this list. Are you eating mostly processed food or even fast food because you just don’t have time to properly plan and eat the right foods?
Being too busy to plan meals or make healthy choices can directly impact your productivity. Many patients come to me to treat low energy and fatigue. These same patients complain of not having enough time to make better food choices.
But what they don’t realize is that these poor nutrition choices may seem quick and easy at the time, but can end up costing you hours in productivity time later!
Your nutrition is hugely impacted by what you eat. But how?
What does food mean to your brain?
Your brain converts all food into a usable form of its main energy source–glucose. Your brain uses glucose to stay alert throughout the day.
So low glucose levels in the body means lower energy and lower levels of alertness. Higher levels of glucose generally mean more energy and a healthy level of alertness in the brain.
However, glucose is best maintained at a certain level in the bloodstream for optimal function. Different foods are processed differently by the body, so the level of glucose released when you eat food is a big deal!
If you eat foods that release glucose quickly (the classic example is a doughnut or other sugary food), you’ll have a burst of energy followed by a crash. Your body was able to quickly process the glucose, leaving you with little to no energy afterwards.
The same goes for meals that are high in unhealthy fats, such as saturated animal fats–although they provide you with energy that’s slightly more sustainable, your digestive system has to work harder to digest this food. This makes oxygen levels in the brain plummet and make us sluggish and groggy.
So what’s the solution?
Which Foods Boost Productivity?
That doughnut you ate has a very high glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index ranks foods on a scale of 1 to 100 based on how they alter your blood sugar levels. A doughnut has a GI of about 75.
Foods with a high glycemic index will cause blood sugar spikes, which typically lead to the crash later. Foods with a low glycemic index allow your body to convert the food into glucose for the brain over a period of time, therefore leading to more sustainable energy.
So the idea here is to eat foods with a lower glycemic index to allow your brain to use the glucose over a period of time rather than just using it all at once.
For example, consider if you ate an apple for breakfast instead of that doughnut. An apple has a GI of about 36. This is much lower than the doughnut and provides your brain with maintainable energy!
Not to mention that the doughnut and the apple require about the same amount of preparation time, for those of you who are busy moms out there!
Research indicates that fruits and vegetables are some of the best foods to boost productivity and enhance brain function.
But this leads us to ask: what are the absolute best foods for your brain to boost productivity throughout the day? These 8 foods are amazing energy providers for your body and brain–and tasty, too!
Berries like raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are full of antioxidants that can help protect your brain from premature aging!
Blueberries have a GI of about 40, but this is still low compared to many foods. Research shows that berries can help stave cognitive decline.
Other research proves that berries, especially blueberries, can help the brain form new connections, enhance learning, and improve memory, even in older adults.
Always choose organic berries, as conventional berries can contain the residue of up to 17 different pesticides on them, even after washing!
Avocados contain healthy fats that provide sustainable energy for the brain as well as promote brain health. Their unsaturated fats can be beneficial, especially for older individuals, to help increase productivity.
The healthy fats in avocados may also help to reduce arterial plaque buildup, therefore increasing blood flow to the brain and improving cognitive function.
Avocados are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E, which can help improve brain health after trauma as well as help cognitive decline in the elderly. Boost productivity and protect your brain with these fun green fruits!
You can improve your memory and concentration with just a handful of walnuts a day, research demonstrates!
Walnuts contain antioxidants and omega-3s, which can help to nourish and protect the brain. Let’s not forget that a cup of walnuts contains five grams of fiber, helping you stay full, while the GI of walnuts is only 15!
Did you know that one banana contains the optimum amount of glucose that your brain needs at a time? This amount is about 25 grams.
Bananas have a GI of 48 and allow your body to process the glucose slower thanks to the fiber content. Bananas also provide other essential vitamins for your brain, including vitamin B6.
Bananas contain manganese as well, which can help protect the brain against diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. Get a healthy dose of sustainable glucose and vitamins with a banana!
5. Dark Chocolate
The flavonoids in dark chocolate and cocoa can help increase blood flow to the brain, enhance cognitive function, and even improve your mood, according to research.
Research also shows that attention and memory can be improved when supplementing with dark chocolate and cocoa, and people with insulin resistance showed significant improvements when taking cocoa.
Insulin is important for the brain because it can help cognition, memory, and have neuroprotective effects!
6. Raw Carrots
Eating raw carrots is good for more than your eyes! Carrots have been shown to improve memory and even help manage cognitive dysfunction.
Carrots contain luteolin, a type of flavonoid. Research proves that luteolin can help enhance memory and reduce inflammation in the brain.
More research shows that the high vitamin A content in carrots helps neuroplasticity of the brain and preserve cognitive function. Snack on raw carrots at work to improve productivity!
Salmon is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, which are crucial for brain function.
In fact, more than two-thirds of your brain is composed of a fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is an important fat that can help to protect the brain from cognitive decline. Salmon is a rich source of this fatty acid!
Luckily, salmon tends to be a low-risk fish when it comes to mercury. Eat about two servings of salmon a week to reap the benefits of this excellent food!
8. Whole Grains
Whole grains can be beneficial for providing your brain with a source of maintainable energy as well as fiber to keep you full throughout the day.
Since swapping your refined flours and grains for whole grains may help improve insulin resistance and blood sugar levels, it may help the brain as well!
It’s important to know if you’re sensitive to grains, especially grains that contain gluten (wheat, barley, and rye). Fortunately, there are plenty of whole grains that are gluten-free. These include:
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Gluten-free oats, especially steel-cut oats
Why Portion Sizes Matter
Eating the right kinds of food is essential to our productivity–but is there such a thing as too much of the right foods?
Actually, yes. This is especially true when it comes to portion sizes. Too much food at one sitting can decrease productivity, making you tired and distracted.
This was previously thought to be because your blood flow shifted to your digestive system after eating, but research shows this isn’t true. Large meals or the wrong kind of foods affect areas in your brain that are sensitive to glucose, making you sluggish and unproductive.
However, too little food doesn’t give you the right amount of brain power. The right portion sizes can make all the difference for your productivity, almost as much as the foods you eat!
The key is to eat smaller, more frequent meals of healthy food choices throughout the day to help you maintain your energy level rather than experience the highs and lows that can come with poor nutrition choices.
Here are some tips on nutrition for better productivity:
“I always grab something along the way.” Does this sound like you?
I hear this from so many of my patients, especially busy mothers who have low energy. They take care of their children first, then eat something quick for themselves. This can result in poor nutrition choices and poor nutrition balance!
You have the opportunity to make healthy choices every day. A healthy lifestyle results from healthy choices and good habits. But how can you eat better to increase your productivity?
- Stock your fridge with healthy foods. If it’s in your house or at your work, you’re likely to eat it. Instead of buying prepackaged foods, buy a bag of organic apples. Say no to cookies and hello to carrot sticks!
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Smaller dishes can help you to manage portion sizes, but also take advantage of prepping your meals ahead of time. Fill a container with a handful of walnuts. Measure a cup of blueberries or a few squares of dark chocolate. It’s that easy!
- Plan ahead. When you’re tired and hungry, you’re much more likely to make poor nutritional choices. Your self-control is lowest when your energy is low. By prepping and planning your meals ahead, you can make smart decisions when hunger strikes!
- Steer clear of tempting foods. We all have foods that we’re tempted by. Cheap food options can feel like smart decisions at the time, but as the day goes on, you become unproductive and your mind is not as clear. Avoid these foods especially!
Your nutrition impacts how your brain functions throughout the day. The good news is that you can control what you eat! By prepping your meals and making smarter food choices, you can remain productive all day long.
What are some of your favorite brain foods? Are you able to work productively even after a full meal? Let us know what you think about food and productivity!