Health Hacks - Eating and Brain Performance

Posted by Edith Clogg on 8/05/19
Edith Clogg
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Welcome to Health Hacks! I’m Edith Clogg, a Registered Dietitian with ISS Guckenheimer. This month, we're diving in to the types of food and ways of eating that can impact your brain, everyday work and life performance.

When we think about food, we don't always think about how it will impact the clarity or energy that we have when leading a business meeting, strategizing a plan, creating new systems, or making sure operations run efficiently. But we should!

There are a few different ways that food has a significant impact on our energy and mental game. Ever had a hard time concentrating on an empty stomach? Our brains primary source of energy is glucose. All carbohydrates are broken down to glucose in our body. When our brain is running low on glucose or energy, our attention drifts and we may not be as alert or focused.

The rate at which food is processed or broken down by our bodies impacts us. Foods with a lot of simple sugars, think sugar sweetened cereals, sugary drinks and candy will be broken down quickly and glucose will be released quickly -- leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Yes, that high sugar drink will give you energy, but it'll be a short burst and likely won't last you long.

A higher fat meal will give you more sustained energy but Australian research shows that those who ate the highest fat diets were most likely to suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness.  Other research shows that eating less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar during a day was linked to lighter, less restorative sleep. We don't have time for that!

So choosing higher fiber foods, lower in saturated fat in sugar may be best for great sleep and energy so we are at our best each day.

What about decision making? When we are ravenous, the body wants all the energy it can get, which can cause us to make decisions in the moment that we might question later. You know, that day you are super hungry and order chicken fingers and fries. Yes, you may have truly wanted and savored that meal - or you may have made that decision when your brain was tired, or needing energy.  When glucose is low, what's called "self-control failures" are more likely to occur. A sufficient level of glucose typically improves self-control.  So could an apple and nut butter when you are hungry prevent an overindulgent lunch? Maybe!

Next up, let's talk about produce specifically.  A beautiful study in The Journal of Health Psychology found that fruit and vegetable consumption predicted greater feelings of engagement, meaning, and purpose in life, as well as increased curiosity and creativity. Why might this be? Fruits and vegetables contain vital nutrients that do a lot of things: At its most basic but incredibly important level, they include vitamins, specifically B vitamins that help to convert calories into ATP, adenosine triphosphate, the form of energy that our bodies use. Produce also provides antioxidants that minimize bodily inflammation, improve memory, and enhance mood.

So what are some things you can do to encourage great brain energy during the day? Not surprisingly, the notion of eating a lot of produce and choosing whole grains to get the right amounts of B vitamins and fiber is best. Limiting saturated fat intake will help you out, also. And make sure you are eating at the right times for your body. Some people, like me, do best with a snack between some meals.

Fruit and nuts is an easy go-to for me and it has some fast healthful carbohydrates in the fruit with some protein and fiber to help that energy last.

You may find that adopting some of these techniques may help your brain feel it's best during the day helping you live your most energetic and focused life.

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Topics: Nutrition (Food), Health & Human Performance (Holistic), Health and Human Performance, Nutrition, Nutrition Strategy, Registered Dietitian, health hacks

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