Eating your way to the top

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Depression and stress has long been recognised as an area to acknowledge and address within the workplace with figures from the UK Health and Safety Executive standing at:

·       526,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2016/17

·       12.5 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17

and in the US, according to a new survey from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation figures state that nearly half (44 percent) of US working adults say that their current job affects their overall health, with only 28% of those believe that effect is a good.

The report goes on to say: ”43% report that their job (is having) a negative impact on their stress levels and other factors affected are sleeping patterns (27%), weight (22%), with 28% of people quoting a detrimental effect on their eating habits.

A recent article in www.Forbes.com reports that more and more HR departments are taking on the role of mental health counsellors, helping support employees who have all sorts of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar and ADHD. While many of these disorders are hidden, 84% of employees have experienced physical, psychological or behavioral symptoms of poor mental health. Symptoms like depression can result in about 5 missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months, costing the U.S. 200 million lost workdays annually, resulting in $17 to $44 billion in lost productivity overall.

So, there is no question that working conditions have a major impact on stress levels and resulting emotional or physical illness, but, have you thought about how what you eat affects the way you feel and perform at work? Do you find yourself a victim of the office "cake-culture" or as a business owner maybe skip meals or rely on "grab and go" as part of the norm?

One simple key to better health is to manage fluctuations in blood sugar levels as these can affect concentration, energy levels, performance, tiredness, and mood. The long-term risks of the combination of the two most powerful hormones involved – insulin and cortisol – are obesity, insulin resistance/type II diabetes, and heart disease. Known as the “silent killer”, heart disease is responsible for 1 in 2.4 deaths of men and women in the UK, despite the focus on lowering cholesterol levels and “fat” as the fiend. Increasingly, however, the wellness industry recognises that it is “inflammation” that is the major factor in these mega-health trends of the 21st century, largely driven by the increasing exposure to foods that are high in sugar or which convert to sugar very quickly. The office “cake culture”, buffet lunches, access to canteen or restaurant dining combined with long hours and high stress levels all make for a potentially damaging cocktail for staff, for business practice and for efficiency.

Our food today is calorie rich but comparatively nutritionally deficient, especially in essential minerals such as magnesium which is so important for brain function, heart health and good sleep. In addition, other food elements such as the B vitamins are depleted by stress and low levels of Vitamin D3 can lead to depression and mental fatigue. This article examines simple options for enriching the nutrients in your diet; guiding you towards making better choices to maintain a healthy weight and cardiovascular system, reduce cravings, reduce mental and physical fatigue and assist in upping productivity and performance.

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What you choose for break-fast (yes you are breaking your overnight fast) is the key to controlling blood sugar. It is this first meal that sets the scene for the rest of the day. Traditionally, before the development of cereal crops in the 1950’s, our breakfast foods would have been largely protein based, i.e. eggs and bacon. The convenience of wheat or cereal based meals means that you are exposed to a rise of sugar into the blood stream, and the resulting dip, often by the time you reach your desk! That’s when cravings for caffeine, the mid-morning snack, the lunch time carbs and/or the 4pm cake-moment become the norm to provide the much-needed pick-me-up. Let’s be clear here, this is a physiological response, and not something that you can control with self-discipline. By choosing more complex carbohydrates such as oats that release energy/sugar slowly into the system, and foods that further slow-down this release, such as proteins and healthy fats, (e.g. nuts and seeds) and by reducing “high sugar” foods such as dried fruit, pastries, and carbs, you will soon notice a substantial improvement to how you feel and perform.

Here are some suggestions:

Breakfast choices: Oats, full-fat yoghurt, berries, eggs, lean meats, veggie juices, high quality protein shakes.

Snacks – a handful of almonds/cashew nuts – oat cakes (limit fruit intake).

Lunchtime tips

·       ask for healthy options at the staff canteen,

·       order first at a restaurant as you are less likely to be swayed by your fellow-diners’ choices,

·       choose lean meat, fish and salad or veg dish,

·       skip dessert.

At buffets:

·       use a small plate and choose brightly coloured food – avoid anything beige!

·       conduct conversations away from the table so that you are not mindlessly eating as you talk.

And finally, limit caffeine intake and drink at least 2 litres of water a day.

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