You’ve been there before. You spend a productive morning cranking out reports, finishing up edits, or answering long-overdue emails. You’re feeling good about your workday, then you sit down to eat lunch — leftovers from the night before or maybe takeout from your favorite deli. However, when you try to finish the workday off strong, your motivation and drive disappear.
Honestly, you could really use a nap.
Turns out, scientific evidence shows certain foods can really impact your brain power, both negatively and positively. Unfortunately, if you’re noshing on those negative-impact foods during the middle of your workday, you’re not very likely to have a productive afternoon afterward.
Whether you’re working from home or the office, you want your midday meal to fuel — not drain — your brain. Here are five foods that will boost your brainpower best — and fastest — so you can avoid the afternoon slump.
How Food Impacts Your Brain Health: The Science
You may theoretically know that if you chow down on carb-heavy meals or fast food during your lunch hour, you’re less likely to get stuff done in the afternoon…but where’s the science behind this theory?
According to Harvard Health Publishing, researchers in multiple studies have discovered correlations between what you eat and impaired brain function, with diets high in refined sugars being a prime offender. Refined sugar-rich diets can even worsen mental illnesses such as depression.
Similarly, according to a publication from the University of Washington, a healthy diet can lead to better memory and mood, as well as improved management of existing mood disorders.
In this project, researchers liken your brain to a high-end car. Feed it high-end fuel, and you’ll see it run at top performance. Fuel it with it less than the best, and you’ll notice a difference.
5 Foods to Boost Your Brain Power
So, what specific foods should you start rotating into your lunch routine to see the most benefits? Aside from avoiding heavily refined foods, the University of Washington, as well as Cleveland Clinic, offers some insight:
Fish, especially fatty fish with lots of omega-3 fatty acid content, can boost your brain power by actually increasing your brain’s gray matter volume. This means it can reduce the natural memory decline that occurs as you age. Consider adding salmon, tuna, herring, or sardines to your lunchtime salad.
Berries are filled with the good stuff — vitamins, minerals, fiber — but some studies also indicate they may have the right ingredients to prevent age-related neurodegenerative disease. The flavonoids in berries are also known to improve memory.
3. Whole Grains
Whole grain products break down slowly in the body, fueling you for a longer amount of time and more efficiently. While this is a nice perk all on its own, swapping out simple carbs for whole grains also means you won’t be consuming those simple carbs that are often part of a heavily refined, sugar-rich diet. So, trade the white bread in your sub sandwich for whole grain bread and opt for brown rice or quinoa in your burrito bowl instead of white rice.
You don’t always have time to cook up fresh salmon or to even make a bowl of soup during your lunch break. So, if you’re crunched for time, grab a handful of nuts (maybe with some of those berries mentioned above). Like fish, nuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids that can improve memory.
5. Dark Chocolate
Eating brain-friendly foods doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself. Treat your taste buds to dark chocolate, which, in moderation, can contribute to brain health through its flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidant content.
Need More Ideas?
If you need a little more inspiration for getting started, check out Cleveland Clinic’s recipe portal, which is filled with brain-boosting recipes you can make any time. From lime-glazed salmon to brain berry jam, quinoa and almond salad to seared tuna, you’re sure to discover some lunch ideas to tempt you.
Make Better Decisions
But even if you know that you should make better lunchtime decisions for a better overall workday, that doesn’t mean it’s always simple.
If you’re having trouble making the switch, Harvard Business Review recommends making your lunch decisions before you get hungry and then not deviating away from them (as studies show we make better dining decisions when we’re not hungry); grazing throughout the day to avoid binging on the bad stuff around lunch; and making the switch as easy as you can by always having a supply of ready-to-eat, delicious, brain-healthy foods on hand.
The Bottom Line
Every meal is an opportunity to boost your brainpower and an easy place to start boosting that brainpower is with your midday meal, when you’re most likely to see immediate results in your workday and productivity.
Looking to build healthier habits in general? Our Arootah coaches can guide you in making the changes needed and building the habits necessary to improve your overall well-being, while receiving constructive accountability, gaining confidence, and improving overall performance and productivity.