Bowl of fruit

Is food the thief of time? Nutrition and work

We are what we eat. The food we consume is fuel for not just our bodies, but also our brains.

A good diet is therefore not just good for our physical health — it can also boost productivity, cognitive performance, mental health and sleep.

For this reason, employers can benefit from taking an interest in supporting employees to make healthy dietary choices. Here’s why that’s important and how employers can help.

Water, water everywhere

Dehydration can have a detrimental impact on cognitive performance and even mood.

That makes it incredibly important to top up your fluid levels, with the NHS recommending between 6 to 8 cups of fluid a day. It doesn’t just have to be water though — lower-fat milk, sugar-free drinks and even tea and coffee count (although be aware that caffeine can make the body produce urine more quickly, reducing hydration).

All employers must provide employees access to clean drinking water under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. However, offering something simple beyond tap water like a dispenser for chilled water and reusable bottles, or going a step up and offering a vending machine with healthy hydration choices, could be a cheap way to encourage employees to drink more and improve cognitive function.

The risks of excess caffeine consumption

In moderation, caffeine consumption can have numerous health benefits, including reducing mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. It can also reduce the likelihood of developing heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Billions of people around the world use caffeine as a pick-me-up, whether it’s first thing in the morning or to increase alertness and concentration.

However, the key is moderation. As well as increasing urine production and therefore potentially dehydration, too much caffeine can cause headaches, increased heart rate, insomnia, raised blood pressure and fatigue (from the caffeine crash when the hit wears off). Few of these are good for workplace productivity.

Encouraging employees to consume caffeine in moderation can therefore be beneficial. As well as traditional tea and coffee, consider supplying decaffeinated alternatives, hot chocolate or herbal teas as well.

Riding the sugar rollercoaster

Spikes and drops in blood sugar throughout the day are not good for productivity or the brain.

Rather than experiencing a blood sugar crash just before lunch — especially if an employee has skipped breakfast — try making it easier to graze throughout the day on healthy snacks.

Wholegrains, nuts and vegetables are all good options to eat throughout the day to maintain a stable blood glucose.

Not only can this help maintain productivity in the short-term on a day-to-day basis, but reducing excess sugar consumption can also lead to long-term productivity gains thanks to lower incidences of obesity and associated conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

5-a-day keeps the blues away

We’ve all heard the importance of eating your five-a-day (although some nutritionists now recommend aiming for seven portions). However, fruit and vegetables are just one pillar of a healthy diet. 

Other important elements include protein. Protein is an important source of amino acids, which are the building blocks for brain chemicals that regulate thoughts and feelings. Meanwhile, good fats (e.g. fatty acids such as omega-3 and -6) are important to keep the brain working well. Such fats are found in oily fish, poultry, nuts, olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados and eggs.

Overall, making healthy dietary choices can support mood and is linked with a reduction in mental ill health and an improvement in energy. This leads to happier, healthier employees.

Healthy diet, healthy body, healthy mind

In June 2022, to coincide with Healthy Eating Week, we’re running a free two-part webinar series open to all with dietician Amy Jones from Work Life Nutrition.

The first webinar covers the basics of healthy eating and is on June 14th at 11am. 

Register here

The second webinar delves a bit deeper, looking at the importance of nutrition to our moods. Amy will be back to lead on how maintaining a healthy, balanced diet can support good mental health on June 16th.

Register here

Meanwhile, for employees with access to our Employee Assistance Programme LifeWorks,1 there’s an array of information on diet, exercise and overall health tips to support making good nutrition choices.

A bad diet can be the thief of time, stealing away productivity. Encouraging employees to maintain a balanced diet can support workplace health and wellbeing, thereby improving productivity and lowering the risk of absenteeism and presenteeism to boot.

1 The Employee Assistance Programme is provided by LifeWorks. Access to the service is facilitated by Unum at no cost to the Unum customer. Unum is not the provider of the service but can withdraw or change the service at any time. The service is entirely separate from any insurance policy provided by Unum and is subject to the terms and conditions of the relevant third-party specialists. There is no additional cost or increase in premium as a result of Unum making this benefit available.

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