Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to read nutrition textbooks or jump into the latest diet trend. In fact, research suggests formal diets lead to future weight gain and aren’t beneficial for health. What works better? Mindfulness and clean eating or “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants,” which according to Yale researchers David Katz and Stephanie Miller is “decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”
This approach to eating is often called clean eating. It’s not only the key to vibrant health, it also boosts brain power, allowing for more focus and productivity at work. Here’s what clean eating doesn’t entail: counting calories, cutting out food groups, or consuming food-like products. Clean eating is not actually a diet, but an approach to eating that emphasizes consuming real food made from minimally-processed ingredients and reconnecting to your body’s natural cues in order to decide when and how much to eat. It’s the way people ate throughout nearly all of history, but it’s an increasingly rare way to eat today.
Keep reading to learn how processed food can be a detriment to your work life, the simple tenets of clean eating, and how healthy, whole foods may help you get a leg up on the job.
Want to improve your health? Commit to making processed foods a smaller part of your diet, and stick to whole grains, legumes, meat, and fresh vegetables if you want to be more effective at work. Real food is the perfect fuel for the body and the brain, and clean eating boosts energy, makes it easier to focus, and improves memory.
Folic acid, omega-3 oils, and many other nutrients have been shown to improve cognitive function. Real food is the best way to ingest nutrients. Spinach, greens, and citrus fruit are rich in folic acid. Fish, flax seeds, nuts, and green, leafy vegetables are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. But don’t worry too much about which foods contain which nutrients. Clean eating isn’t about munching on the latest superfoods. It’s about eating a wide variety of whole foods.
The brain consumes about 20% of the calories you burn when you’re at rest. Glucose, a form of sugar, is the substance the body uses to feed every cell, including brain cells. To perform optimally, the brain needs a steady stream of glucose in the blood stream. But clean, minimally processed foods—such as lean meats, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains—provide sustained energy, while a treat from the vending machine typically provides a short burst of energy. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, convert most easily into the glucose we need to stay energized and productive.
When you eat processed items such as candy or a sugary beverage, the brain receives quick fuel as well as a rush of dopamine. However, the body goes into a short period of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. The pancreas responds to the influx of glucose with a flood of insulin, which quickly lowers blood glucose levels. That’s why it’s common to feel sluggish, lethargic, and even irritable 30 to 45 minutes after eating a sugary snack. People call this a “sugar crash.” To make it worse, most vending-machine snacks (and many other processed foods) provide only empty calories and no actual nourishment.
All that said, scientists are increasingly understanding that diet is highly individualized. You may respond differently to the same meal than the person in the cubicle next to you does. You won’t know which foods suit you best unless you pay attention, which is why mindfulness is also an important component of clean eating.
Reconnecting with Natural Cues
For better health and increased productivity, pay attention to your body’s natural cues and forget diet rules. Hunger is your body’s way of communicating that it needs refueling. When you ignore the message, it’s difficult to concentrate. You may feel lightheaded, irritable, short tempered, shaky, or nervous. Satiety is your body’s built-in calorie regulator. When you ignore it, you may overeat, which may lead to stomach discomfort, nausea, and lethargy.
Many people are disconnected from these natural cues because of frequent dieting, disordered eating, or distractions. Learning to heed your body’s communications can help you effortlessly regulate your food and nutrient intake to feel great, and be productive all day. Here’s how to do it: When you feel hungry, step away from work, put away distractions, and enjoy your food in a relaxed environment. Eat slowly and pay attention to how you feel, then stop when you feel satisfied.
If you’ve been loading up on sugar and processed foods, it may take a while for your appetite to shift toward healthier foods. However, many people report they begin to crave healthy foods after improving their diets, and research supports this observation. Eventually, trust your body to know what kind of fuel it needs, how much it needs, and when it needs it.
Whole foods are the best fuel for your body and your brain. Make a commitment to eat clean most of the time, and you’ll enjoy better health and increased productivity at work and beyond.
ZeroCater corporate catering and snacks services provide curated meals and snacks to companies for any office occasion. We partnered with a diverse range of local restaurants, caterers, and food trucks alongside a personalized selection of snacks, beverages, and kitchen supplies, all tailored to your teams’ tastes and dietary preferences. ZeroCater is currently available in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Washington D.C. and Chicago. More About ZeroCater
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