Eat Better, Work Better
How the path to better productivity goes through your stomach.By Aatika H Jain
Popeye was right. The eponymous hero from the popular cartoon series, Popeye the Sailorman, ate his greens (who can forget the can of spinach he’d gulp down) to gain superhuman strength while he tackled his arch-enemy, Bluto. But, meh, reel life, real life, one would think. It often happens that our days begin on a high note, but as it progresses, our energy levels take a huge dip. Despite regular fitness regimes, our bodies are riddled with fatigue by noon. Post lunch appointments look daunting. But has it ever crossed your mind that the culprit could be that rushed breakfast or the lunch we chose to skip?
How improper dietary habits affect our brain
Researchers from Brigham Young University found in a study that employees with unhealthy food habits were 66 percent more prone to lose in productivity as compared to those with healthy diets. The direct effect of our food habits on brain functioning can be gauged by the fact that it utilizes 20 percent of our total calorie intake. Everything we eat or drink is metabolized into glucose and used as energy to drive the life processes. The difference lies in how various food items are processed. Simple carbohydrates, found in refined flour products and sugary treats, get metabolized quickly into glucose resulting in a sudden spike in blood sugar. Such food items are said to have a high glycaemic index.
However, foods with a low glycaemic index take longer processing time, providing a sustained supply of energy. A sudden spike in blood sugar results in high serotonin and tryptophan, which leads to low willpower, depression, lack of self-control and grogginess. The burst of energy is inevitably followed by an abrupt dip in glucose level, too. Fatty foods, on the other hand, take longer to convert to glucose. In this process, more blood flow is directed to the digestive system for extra work while the brain takes a back seat leaving the person feeling drowsy, dull and lethargic. Now that we know how our food intake affects our brains, let’s look at how we can maximize productivity simply by treating our guts right.
Start your day with a hearty breakfast
“A good breakfast should provide you with enough energy to kickstart your metabolism and enough protein to keep you satiated till lunch,” says Dr. Malavika Dikshit from Lucknow. “Try wholegrain, unrefined food items. The traditional Indian breakfasts such as idli, dosa, thaalipeeth or parantha with curd are quite wholesome. Cut down on sugar.” Focus on lean proteins like a hard-boiled egg, more vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and whole-grain products that you can eat on the go.
Plan your meals in advance
Don’t wait till you’re starving to decide what to eat. Plan ahead. It’s easier to make healthy choices when your stomach isn’t growling at you.
Manage your food intake throughout the day
Most of us already know the rudiments of a healthy diet, yet we miserably end up making poor decisions. While looking to save time, it is mostly our meals that suffer.
Breakaway and eat
“To avoid mid-day lethargy, divide your lunch into two or three smaller meals and have them in intervals of two hours each. This will keep you from starving and being plagued by the stupor of a high blood sugar level. Go for a 10-minute walk outside your workplace after lunch. Breathe. Enjoy the scenery,” suggests Dr. Dikshit. Keep healthy snacks such as nuts and fresh fruits handy.
Dine like a pauper
“Avoid tea, coffee, alcoholic beverages around dinner time as they act as stimulants. Maintain a gap of at least two hours between dinner and bedtime. Opt for low-glycaemic load meals,” advises Dr. Dikshit.
Keep your body hydrated. There is no validity to rules like drinking eight cups of water every day. Use your thirst as an indicator. Drink water to keep drooping eyelids open. Studies have revealed that drinking around 500ml of water can elevate the metabolic rate up 30 percent temporarily. Bored of water? “In hotter seasons, opt for drinks like chach, lassi, aam ka Panna, sattu drinks, etc,” says Dr. Dikshit.
Eat right, sleep tight, be bright
What we put in our mouth directly impacts our body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates our internal body clock. It tells the body when to feel sleepy and tired or be wide-awake. The more we adjust our dietary habits according to our circadian rhythms, the greater the productivity we can achieve the next day.
The secret to higher productivity lies not just in time management but in food management as well. A few smart changes in food choices can easily help us achieve more. Don’t resist the temptation. Just make healthier options the easiest options. Probably, like keeping a can of spinach ready?
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