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.
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.
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.
Spikes and drops in blood sugar throughout the day are not good for productivity or the brain. Wholegrains, nuts and vegetables are all good options to eat throughout the day to maintain a stable blood glucose.
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. This might involve swapping out some of the traditional crisps in vending machines for unsalted nuts or offering an employee fruit bowl.
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.
We’ve all heard the importance of eating your five-a-day (although some nutritionists now recommend aiming for seven portions). Studies suggest that higher fruit and vegetable intake can positively impact mental health; 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 your brain needs to produce neurotransmitters (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, nuts, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin) and avocados.
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.
In June 2023, to coincide with Healthy Eating Week, we’ve produced a podcast in conjunction with Square Health’s Samantha Beckinsale. Sam is a nutritional coach who specialises in working with clients to make achievable improvements to their nutrition and, therefore, their energy and wellbeing. The podcast covers the foundations of what makes a good diet and why it’s so important.Listen now
Healthy Eating Week is all about supporting and promoting healthier lifestyles with nutrition and diet. However, it’s not always simple. Food labels can be confusing and there are various fad diets that seemingly disagree on food groups to reduce or increase to lose weight.
Unum’s Group Income Protection customers can offer employees access to 1-2-1 nutritional coaching1 via our award-winning health and wellbeing app Help@hand.2 This provides the employee with up to six sessions per year with a qualified diet and nutrition expert. Using video calling built into the Help@hand app, the nutrition expert can help build a tailored healthy eating plan to meet the employee’s diet, health and lifestyle goals — whatever they might be.Discover more
This can help good diet habits stick and prevent a poor diet from being the thief of time, stealing away productivity. Employees who maintain a balanced diet tend to exhibit better workplace health and wellbeing, thereby improving productivity and reducing the risk of absenteeism and presenteeism to boot.
1 Only for employees insured by Unum Group Income Protection
2 Help@hand is provided to Unum Group customers by Square Health. It offers access to services designed to manage the health and wellbeing of employees and their families. Help@hand is entirely separate from any Unum insurance policy. Help@hand is not part of the insurance contract, is provided by Unum for no additional cost to its customers, and Unum can withdraw or change the service in the future. Help@hand is available to UK residents only. Unum offers access to the Help@hand services provided by third parties. Square Health Limited, registered in England and Wales Number 07054181. Crown House, William Street, Windsor SL4 1AT.
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