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Food for thought

19 July 2017. Published by Emily Rome, Trainee Solicitor

With New Year's resolutions to eat better now long forgotten, we discuss some top tips to push that 4pm sugar slump and ensure ultimate concentration while at work.

According to the NHS we eat one third of our calories when at work (for some of us maybe more!). The more serious risks of unhealthy eating at work include weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, a poor diet will also cause headaches, lethargy and reduced concentration.

To avoid feeling this way, consider the following meal suggestions.

Breakfast

This is the most important meal of the day. Researchers at Kings College London found that consuming breakfast cereal reduced attention deficit and sometimes prevented the deficit altogether. While cereal with wholegrain is an easy breakfast option, beware of the sugar content.

Porridge is another good choice as it is low in calories and will help you feel fuller for longer. Oats, as well as being high in fibre and protein, have a low glycaemic index which triggers the release of greater amounts of a hormone in the gut, delaying hunger pangs by creating a "full" sensation. Mix it up by adding fruit, nuts, coco or cinnamon.

If porridge is not to your taste, try low-fat natural yoghurt or Greek yoghurt which is a good source of calcium and protein. Consider adding fresh fruit or even pumpkin seeds for an added crunch – they're a nutritional powerhouse containing zinc, which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills, and stress-busting magnesium.

Lunch

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines have a whole host of health benefits. They are a concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help rebuild brain cells, slow cognitive decline, and also strengthen the memory synapses in your brain. The protein also contains amino acids, which are essential for keeping the brain focused and sharp.

Try adding some spinach or broccoli to your lunch. Though we can't guarantee they will give you biceps of a Popeye scale, these greens are rich in iron and contain a range of vitamins, including vitamin A and vitamin K, known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.

Eggs are a dense source of the omega-3 fatty acid and also contain choline, a compound that can help maintain healthy brain cell membranes.

Dinner (for those of us who are still in the office)

Dinner needs to be nutritionally balanced as well as being a sensible serving size - don't let that feeling of being so hungry you want to eat everything in sight ruin your diet!

Public Health England recommends we:

  1. Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day;
  2. Base our meals on starchy carbohydrates, choosing wholegrain and higher fibre versions where possible;
  3. Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks); and
  4. Eat a variety of beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (such as tofu and mycoprotein).

Aim to have at least three different kinds of food on your plate using a combination of the above. And if it's going to be a take away kind of night, here are some tips on what to order.

Snacks

Not a traditional snack, but insects (which are now sold in handy snack packs!) are considered highly nutritional; the majority of them are rich in protein, healthy fats, iron, and calcium, and low in carbohydrates.

If insects don’t tickle your taste buds then opt for fruit or nuts. Bananas are high in potassium which is an essential mineral crucial for keeping your brain, nerves, and heart healthy. Blueberries are high in antioxidants which boost memory. Almonds are high in calcium, which helps build healthy bones, and cashews are rich in magnesium, which is thought to improve recall and delay age-related memory loss.

Drink, drink, drink

Firstly, put down those energy drinks! They're often full of sugar and sugar-free options are loaded with chemicals.

Have plenty of water as thirst and dehydration can cause fatigue. If drinking water is not appealing, try adding a slice of lemon or a sprig of mint to make it more interesting.

For those in need of caffeine fix, try to avoid drinking coffee as it only dehydrates you further. Instead why not try green tea which contains a more modest amount of caffeine and is balanced by the amino acid theanine which improves mental alertness and focus. Alternatively, dark cocoa (the one without the sugar, unfortunately!) boosts serotonin and endorphin levels, which helps us concentrate better.

So why not try a green tea and banana this afternoon (rather than that coffee and cake!).