Workplace stress is a guarantee for most in varying degrees, at some stage or another. One of the most effective ways we can support ourselves in reacting to and managing stress, is through what we eat. Why is this? Our brain performance is primarily influenced by our diet, making food choices one of the most important variables to the health, vitality and functionality of the brain (and the rest of our body for that matter!). If the brain isn’t receiving sufficient nutrients, cognitive function deteriorates, inevitably effecting how we behave, the way we feel and the decisions we make.
So, what should we be eating to support our brain? The human brain is made up of almost 60% fat, so it makes sense that fatty acids are proven to be one of the most essential molecules that effect brain health and performance. Essential fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and therefore must be obtained by what you eat. Consuming adequate essential fatty acids, ideally solely through diet but if necessary, along with supplementation, will support optimum brain health and function, as well as maintaining general wellbeing.
Good fat is your ally and will not make you fat. Carb loading will lead to an increase in your insulin levels, resulting in severe highs and lows in your mental clarity and energy. It’s also more likely to have you packing on extra kilos. If you are going to have carbs (fruit, starchy vegetables, bread, etc.), always accompany it with some good fat and/or protein, as this will prevent a severe blood sugar spike. See a couple of meal ideas that will maintain your insulin levels and guarantee boosting your brain power a bit further down.
Good fat is your ally and will not make you fat.
What can we eat to naturally increase brain power? Load up on the below foods, which are full of essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants, changing it up for each meal. The below is not an extensive list and there are many more fantastic options, however these are some of the top picks that are easy to adapt into your current diet.
- Olive oil (unheated) – rich in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that protect the brain
- Coconut oil – provides saturated fat, a vital nutrient for the function of the cell membranes of the brain
- Wild salmon – natural source omega-3 oil DHA, helping stimulate growth of brain cells in the memory centre
- Blueberries – packed with brain-protective antioxidants and reduces inflammation
- Eggs – rich in choline, which is a precursor chemical for one of the most fundamental neurotransmitters and brain-protective antioxidant (acetylcholine)
- Almonds – high levels of brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and brain-protecting vitamin E
- Pumpkin seeds – rich source of zinc, important for memory and brain function
- Walnuts – rich in vitamin E, omega-3 fats, copper, manganese and fibre, helping produce good gut bacteria to support brain health
- Spinach – rich in antioxidants, vitamin K, folate, lutein
- Avocado – high levels of brain-protecting monosaturated fats, maintains healthy blood pressure levels
- Broccoli – high in sulfurophane, which aids in detoxification and reduction of inflammation
- Kale – rich in vitamins C, K, & A, potassium, iron
- Asparagus – rich in prebiotic fibre to support brain-healthy gut bacteria
- Kimchi / Sauerkraut – traditional fermented vegetables, loaded with healthful probiotic bacteria to help promote brain health
- Chicken liver pate – packed with micronutrients, including vitamin B12, Biotin, vitamin A and folate all essential for brain function and DNA support
In addition to our food choices, our movement and exposure to sunlight/fresh air (or lack thereof) play a vital role in our cognitive performance and mental state. It’s easy to get caught in bad habits, such as eating meals at your computer, sitting for hours on end and not drinking enough water, all wreaking havoc on your body and mind.
Below are a few easy habits you can adopt today – try them out for 2 weeks minimum and notice the shift in your cognitive function, energy levels and mood:
- Get up and move around as much as possible throughout the day. Sitting for hours on end is terrible for us. Make phone calls on a wireless handset or your mobile and pace as you talk. This sequence of stretches suited to an office space are great to use too – https://www.marksdailyapple.com/13-desk-exercises-at-work/
- Get outside at least once during your working day. Sun on your face and grass underfoot do wonders for the mind, even if only for 20 minutes. Make a habit of never eating lunch at your desk (mindful eating!) and when possible switch off from the distractions of your computer / mobile phone.
- Keep a 2L water bottle at your desk. Having the bottle there will prompt you to remember to drink. Avoid tap water, always opt for filtered. Add a slice of lemon or drop of food grade citrus oil if it entices you to drink more. Guzzle through 1-2 bottles per day. Often when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually dehydrated. Staying hydrated will keep your mind alert.
- Ditch anything processed or packaged/labeled… or at least with labels including toxic ingredients such as colourings, preservatives, stablisers, sulfites, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, BHA, nitrates, MSG. Always opt for wholefoods and stick to fresh, local and seasonal produce. Make extra servings at dinner, so you can have leftovers for lunch the next day.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand at the office. Activated nuts, organic 85% cacao chocolate, organic low-sugar fruit (green apple, berries, grapefruit), vegetable sticks (carrot, cucumber, celery, capsicum, etc). Store a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge and add to café bought salads/meals. Olives also make a fantastic snack, high in essential fatty acids.
- When it comes to dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese, butter etc. – always opt for organic, FULL FAT, unhomogenised. Half fat, skim, low fat, fat free… avoid it all. Sugar and synthetic alternatives are used to substitute the fat content that has been stripped from the whole product. If you can’t have your coffee/tea black, then ideally use full fat cream (or full fat milk if cream N/A). Be wary of milk substitutes – rice, soy, almond, etc. – as they often have added sugar and preservatives.
BRAIN POWER MEALS
These meals are easy to prep at home for you to take to the office for breakfast or lunch. Invest in a couple of insulated food containers to keep everything fresh and cold during transit. Where possible use organic, locally sourced ingredients.
10-12 activated nuts (almond, macadamia, brazil, walnut all great options)
½ cup frozen strawberries / blueberries
½ frozen banana – optional for extra sweetness
3 tbsp full fat sheep or cow yogurt
3 tbsp coconut oil or coconut cream
Handful of ice
¾ cup of water or coconut water blend, use more if needed 1 scoop natural protein powder – optional
Blend everything together in a nutri-bullet/blender, store in a thermos and enjoy cold. Add 2 tbsp raw cacao powder before blending, if you want to add extra antioxidants and get an added energy boost from the caffeine in the cacao bean.
Pseudo-Cereal (Grain Free)
1 pear or green apple, grated
¼ cup shredded coconut
½ cup full fat sheep or cow yogurt
2 tbsp coconut oil
Tsp vanilla powder
12-15 activated nuts
2 Tbsp buckwheat or chia seeds
Tbsp cacao nibs
Mix everything together in a bowl and top with extra cinnamon if desired. This can be made the night before and stored in the fridge.
Boiled Eggs, Avocado and Cultured Vegies (this can also work as a lunch option)
3-4 tbsp sauerkraut or kimchi
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Medium-hard boil 2 eggs night before of in the morning. To eat, peel and serve with the diced avocado and cultured vegies. Top with the sunflower and sesame seeds. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Add goat cheese or hummus, if desired.
Small tin tuna in brine
2 hard boiled eggs
1 large stick celery
1 large carrot
½ red capsicum
1 radish – optional
2 tbsp whole egg mayonnaise
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar – optional
Sea salt & cracked pepper
Finely chop the carrot, celery, capsicum, radish and parsley. Combine in a bowl with the tuna and eggs (roughly chopped). Add the mayonnaise, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in big cos lettuce leaves if desired.
Make this the night before and store in the fridge. Leave out the tuna if you’re not a fan and just have the egg. Or add chopped chicken if you have left over from dinner the night before.
Open Capsicum “Sandwich”
- 1 large red capsicum
- 4 tbsp goat’s cheese
- 2 tbsp pesto
- Protein choice of tinned tuna or salmon; 2 boiled eggs; chicken liver pate; or leftover chicken (get creative!)
- Sea salt & cracked pepper
Wash, halve and deseed the capsicum. Evenly spoon in the goat’s cheese and pesto into each capsicum half and top with your choice of protein. Season with sea salt and pepper. Top with fresh rocket and a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired.
Leftovers + Cultured Vegies
Make an extra serving at dinner time and save for lunch the next day. If you need to pad the leftovers out, add a tin of tuna or boiled eggs and a spoonful of cultured vegies. You could also add some fresh salad mix or rocket too.