Can we eat ourselves smart?

With four teenagers at home, life is a constant stream of food. At least one of them is always hungry. And as GCSE season approaches, we get letters home from the school encouraging us to serve our offspring ‘porridge’ and ‘fish’ to get their synapses buzzing.

With the youngest of the brood averse to eating anything other than toast and jam, the suggestion of ‘fish’ sends her stomping upstairs in a teen rage. But it got me thinking. Can our nutritional choices help us to be more productive, creative and even cleverer at work?

Time for some research.

My first stop – the BDA, the Association of UK Dietitians. Their Work Ready Programme White Paper explores the link between nutrition and work.

“There is evidence that nutrition interventions can support strategies to reduce sickness absence, presenteeism, accident reduction and customer care,” explains the report. “There is growing evidence to suggest that good nutrition is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health.”

So, if we want to be on our best form in the office, what choices should we be making with our diets?

“Complex carbohydrates keep a steady supply of blood glucose to the brain,” advise the BDA in their report.

"Your body quickly takes glucose out of the carbohydrates and feeds it to your brain to help it function," agrees Dr. Arnold Scheibel, former director of UCLA's Brain Research Institute, writing in Men’s Health magazine.

Further research amongst bloggers and dietitians reveals the top carbohydrate choices for creative brain power are oats, quinoa, brown rice, millet, amaranth, spelt and barley.

Antioxidants from berries and fruits are also celebrated for their ability to boost immunity and keep brain cells healthy, whilst nutritionists are quick to praise essential fatty acids found in walnuts and flaxseeds. They help our brains process and understand information, necessary for creative thinking and problem solving. Who knew?

Well, it turns out the late Steve Jobs did. He claimed the source of his creative ingenuity came from his high fruit diet.

These are all good reasons to bring a trolley of blueberries into the office. But what if we can’t face a day of flax seeds, amaranth and quinoa before we head to a brainstorm? Luckily, there are even simpler, cheaper ways to boost our brain power. 

It turns out a humble glass of water can do wonders.

Independent dietician, Helen Bond, stresses the importance of staying hydrated in the office if we want to work at our best. “Early signs of dehydration include increased thirst, dizziness, dry sticky mouth, tiredness and headaches,” she says. None of these sound great for creativity.

“Emerging research also suggests that children who drink well perform better in attention and memory tests, and handwriting skills at school,” she adds.

The BDA agree that drinking plenty of liquids is essential if you want to be firing on all cylinders. “Dehydration has been shown to have an impact on brain structures, similar to mild cognitive impairment.”

So, whether it’s a creative challenge, or a set of GCSEs you’re contemplating, give food (and drink) a thought. I now just need to convince my teenagers…

Pippa Strutt

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search