Five key points from a new report on why nutrition matters in business

Throw aside that hurriedly grabbed panini – when it comes to nutrition, the stakes are too high to eat unhealthily. A new report from fast food chain Pod says workplace productivity is intimately affected by what we eat during the day. Here are five things we learned:

Inadequate nourishment cuts productivity by 20 per cent

A recent study from the International Labour Organisation reported that employees who eat an unhealthy diet are more likely to see a drop in productivity compared to those who regularly consume fruit, grains and vegetables. Poor nourishment, it concludes, reduces productivity by up to 20 per cent.

“Around 20 per cent of daily calorie intake should contribute to brain function alone,” says nutritionist Helen Money. “But this shouldn’t just come from glucose and carbohydrate – the body also requires zinc, calcium, magnesium and omega three, which has strong links with brain function.”

Eating well supports the nervous system and reduces anxiety

Observational research links the overconsumption of sugar with stress, which is thought to be the result of a negative feedback pathway making sugar more addictive.

“People in the workplace regularly suffer from both acute and chronic stress,” Money says. “And stress alters eating patterns, with people suffering from stress more likely to crave foods that are high in carbohydrates, fats and sugars.”

The Pod report suggests consuming foods high in cortisol and Vitamin B5, including eggs, chicken, avocado and nuts, to reduce stress and improve mental reaction to challenges.

An iron-rich diet improves attention span and planning ability

A lack of iron in the diet is a common issue for British workers, with 20 per cent of women aged 19-34 suffering from an iron deficiency. A 2016 report from Penn State University academics suggests an iron-deficient diet can impact on attention span, impair the ability to plan ahead and slow reactions to crises, with even a mild deficiency having cognitive ramifications. To improve iron intake and support brain function, the Pod report recommends red meat, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Regularly eating fruit and veg is linked to increased happiness and engagement

In a 2015 study by the British Journal of Health Psychology of 405 people who kept food diaries, participants with a higher fruit and veg intake reported greater feelings of creativity when at work, which was attributed to the production of dopamine as a result of eating fruit in particular.

“A diet that is high in fruit and veg should be a big focus for people in creative roles,” Money says. “Small amounts of carbohydrate will help provide sustained bursts of energy throughout the day, and prevent any sluggish feelings that inhibit creativity.”

The Pod diet plans have some unhealthy ideas about gender at work

The Pod report created diet plans for different job types – including ‘creatives’ (“marketing, advertising, PR, journalists, artists”), and ‘office angels’ (“admin support and assistant staff”), both of which were described as “great for ladies”. By contrast, the plan for ‘high flyers’ (“investment bankers, lawyers, accountants, IT and analysts”) was tagged “brain-fuelling stress-busting foods for men”.  

There didn’t seem to be any scientific support or nutritional basis for the decision to make these roles gender-specific – which made it disappointing to see see a report crafted for a more productive workplace unconsciously enforcing the retrogressive ideas that women are less likely to have demanding and high-pressure careers.