The scientific link between healthy eating and productivity

14 August 2018 -

healthywork

You can improve your productivity at work through healthy eating

Guest blogger Tom Waterfall

When we think of the benefits of eating healthily, most of us tend to think of the long-term advantages. And this is with good reason, because avoiding diseases and increasing our longevity is one of the best investments we can make in our future.


But as well as reducing our risk of long-term illnesses like heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis, eating well can have a profound effect on our productivity in the workplace. 


HOW EATING WELL CAN INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY

  • Eating well increases energy and alertness
  • Eating well ensures a healthy immune system, which will reduce absenteeism
  • Eating well improves sleep, leading to greater concentration
  • Eating well can help to improve mental health
  • And of course, a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain a healthy weight, which gives us an improved ability to take part in physical activity

With so many benefits to healthy eating, both long and short-term, how can we specifically improve our nutrition? Well, it’s surprisingly simple – the government have produced eight tips for healthy eating, which are:

  • Base meals on starchy foods
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables – at least five portions per day
  • Eat more fish
  • Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
  • Eat less salt
  • Get active and maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t get thirsty – drink two litres of water a day
  • Don’t skip breakfast – eat regular meals

EATING WELL BOOSTS CREATIVITY AND HAPPINESS AT WORK

Scientific literature shows these tips could improve productivity at work. For example, it’s been shown that the more portions of fruit and vegetables eaten per day, the happier, more engaged, and more creative people will be at work. In a study by the British Journal of Heath Psychology, adults who ate more healthily over a 13-day period had greater wellbeing and also demonstrated more feelings of meaning and purpose at work.

Read more: Five reasons why having a business purpose pays off

In addition, those employees who eat five portions of fruit and vegetables on at least four days per week show 25% higher job performance than those who do not. More than 20,000 employees across three US-based companies undertook an annual survey for three years. Those who ate healthily were off work less, and achieved more, in one study.

THREE NUTRIENTS FOR MANAGERS TO LOOK OUT FOR

MAGNESIUM

Specific nutrients such as magnesium (found in leafy greens, steak and dark chocolate) have been linked to a reduction in anxiety; magnesium has a relaxing effect on muscles.

PHENYLALANINE

Phenylalanine can cross the blood-brain barrier and it stimulates the brain to produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Find it in almonds.

CHOLINE

This B-vitamin is said to improve reaction time and concentration by boosting the functioning of neurons. It’s contained in eggs.

HOW MANAGERS CAN HELP THEIR TEAM TO EAT WELL

What can managers do to improve the nutrition of all their staff? Through its Workplace Wellbeing Charter accreditation process, Health@Work looks at steps that organisations take to help employees make healthier food choices as part of the working day and beyond.

The principles are:

  • Build awareness of healthy foods (by providing information on healthy eating guidelines and the benefits)

  • Improve access to healthy food and resources (by ensuring access to a clean hygienic eating area and providing fresh drinking water)

  • Provide encouragement by giving staff opportunities to take part in healthy eating campaigns and supporting staff who wish to eat more healthily


Tom Waterfall is workplace wellbeing consultant at Health@Work. The free self-assessment tool on the Workplace Wellbeing Charter website can help managers to audit and benchmark their organisations against workplace health and wellbeing best practice


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