Tips from experts

It seems every week there’s a new study or report telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat. It’s no wonder we sometimes get confused when nutrition experts seem to be hailing a new miracle diet just when we’ve gotten to grips with the one that’s gone before.

Ignoring fads, there are some basic concepts most experts agree on when it comes to nutrition, health and wellbeing, particularly in the workplace where added factors like stress and tiredness can derail our best intentions around food and eating.

  • Some clichés are popular for a reason: breakfast is the most important meal of the day

    A good breakfast, high in protein, will help you feel fuller for longer, minimising your chances of snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the day. Research shows that those who eat breakfast perform better on cognitive tests and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks in the morning or throughout the day

    They fool your brain into thinking you’re full of energy, but they’re effect is short-lived and you’ll soon feel a slump. Caffeine also disturbs sleep, and sleep deprivation can cause us to crave fatty and sugary snacks. Sleeplessness can also lead to more stress at work, which in turn leads to poor sleep.

  • Find balance in your meals

    Each meal should ideally encompass all the food groups: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals. As a rule of thumb, about 40 percent of your plate should be green vegetables, which are slow-burning carbohydrates, 30 percent should be lean protein and the remaining 30 percent healthy fats such as those found in fish oils, avocado, nuts and eggs.

  • Familiarise yourself with the glycaemic index

    Low GI foods like oats, beans, lentils and sweet potatos release glucose gradually into the blood stream, avoiding the blood sugar highs and lows. White bread, white rice and baked and mashed potatoes are all examples of high GI foods to avoid.

  • Aim for three main meals a day at regular times, always avoiding the temptation to skip meals, particularly when you feel rushed, overworked or stressed

    While we think putting off lunch will buy us time, it’s counter-productive. It just leads to flagging energy levels and a likely binge later in the day.

  • Stick to healthy snacks

    Choosing to snack on fresh fruit is a popular choice for the busy, but health-conscious professional. However, always try to combine fruit with some form of protein, as when eaten on its own fruit produces the same spike in blood sugar followed by an inevitable slump as a sugary snack.

  • Avoid the temptation to use food to combat work-related stress.

    Stress can lead to fatigue or depression, both of which prompt us to reach for foods that are quick to eat and have a comforting or sedative effect. But reaching for a chocolate bar or cookie when we’re under pressure will lead to a spike in blood sugar followed by an inevitable slump. A brisk walk or a cup of herbal tea is a much healthier and more beneficial alternative.

  • If you can’t resist the urge to snack, try to choose hard, crunchy foods such as almonds, soy nuts or carrot sticks that help to relieve stress by putting tight jaw muscles to work.

    And if you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, try a stress-busting mini-meal of a boiled egg, shitake mushrooms and watercress. High tryptophan levels in eggs boost relaxing brain chemicals while shiitake mushrooms contain beta-glucan, a complex sugar that protects against stress. Watercress is packed with enzymes that process stress hormones, helping you feel calm.