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5 diet tips to help you succeed at work, according to a Harvard-trained psychiatrist

Embracing a healthy diet and listening to your body can help your performance and stamina, especially if you’re adopting a new work routine.

5 diet tips to help you succeed at work, according to a Harvard-trained psychiatrist
[Photo: vaaseenaa/iStock]

With many of us returning to in-person work, it is important to take advantage of the various ways in which we can ease this transition and achieve workplace excellence in new environments. Nutrition has a tremendous power for maximizing focus, productivity and brain power in the workplace and provides tangible means for individuals to support their own professional performance. The following nutritional psychiatry tips can help you take advantage of the many brain-boosting benefits of food for maximizing performance and stamina in the workplace.

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Fill your plate with colorful fruits and veggies

Fiber-rich plant foods are packed with antioxidants, polyphenols, flavanols, vitamins, and minerals that help reduce inflammation in the brain and resist the effects of oxidative stress. Such foods can help improve focus, reduce fatigue, and enhance cognition for optimal performance. Think about gamifying this for yourself, family, and friends to see how many new colors you can add in a day or a week to enhance biodiversity in your diet, which has been linked to improved gut health. 

Cook with herbs and spices

Cooking with herbs and spices adds an array of brain-boosting molecules to food. For example, when we add turmeric with a pinch of black pepper to cooking, the curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory properties and acts as an antioxidant, supporting positive moods and brain function, and helping to clear any brain fog that may be impairing workplace excellence. It’s also easy to add a teaspoon of turmeric and black pepper to a tea, soup, or smoothie. (Try my mood-boosting golden milk recipe to start.)

Follow your “body intelligence” on caffeine and alcohol

Many of us utilize caffeine to help power up in the morning and throughout the day and then wind down at evening with wine or cocktails. While both caffeine and alcohol have been shown to have health benefits when consumed in moderation, their effects are also highly specific to each individual and their microbiome. This is where I suggest tapping into one’s body intelligence—think IQ or EQ, but geared around body awareness—one of the pillars of nutritional psychiatry. Pay close attention to whether or not caffeine helps you improve focus or is overly stimulating and causes distracting jitteriness. Similarly, recognize if after a few evening beverages you toss and turn all night and wake up feeling poorly rested. These symptoms can guide you to potentially adjust consumption to resist any negative impact on mental health and work productivity.

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Stay hydrated

Remaining properly hydrated is key for optimal brain health and function. Many symptoms of poor mental health and cognitive function that may impact workplace excellence are tied to dehydration. Sipping on water throughout the day and including hydrating fruits and vegetables in the diet, such as cucumbers and lettuce, help maintain hydration levels and work performance. Keep a stainless steel or glass water bottle on your work desk and remember to refill it a few times every day or set a reminder on your phone to sip. Dehydration can worsen or even precipitate anxiety and staying hydrated is associated with decreased depression and anxiety.

Snack on nutrient-dense brain foods

When hunger strikes between meals during the workday or when in need of a pick-me-up, opt for brain foods that will help you cognitively keep your mind sharp. Another tip is that hunger and thirst signals can sometimes be confused, so sip on some hydrating water to overcome hunger pangs until you can reach out for a healthy snack. Some of my favorite focus-enhancing snacks are a small square of extra-dark natural chocolate, a handful of walnuts, or berries, all of which contain fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals for enhancing brain power.


Dr. Naidoo will host a workshop on the relationship between food and mood on September 27 the Fast Company Innovation Festival. To learn more about the event and to purchase tickets please visit the festival website

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