Whether you’re working on a stressful project, need more sleep, or need to overcome an afternoon lull, here are some top food choices to boost your health, productivity, and energy at work.
1. Black tea
Stressed out? Daily cups of tea may help you recover more quickly from the stresses of everyday life. A study conducted at the University College London found that black tea has an effect on stress hormone levels in the body. According to the researchers, although black tea does not appear to reduce the actual levels of stress people experience, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing high stress hormone levels back to normal. The researchers were not sure what ingredients of tea were responsible for the effects.
“Tea is chemically very complex, with many different ingredients. Ingredients such as catechins, polyphenols, flavonoids and amino acids have been found to have effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, but we cannot tell from this research which ones produced the differences,” stated the researchers.
Next time you’re going for a cup of coffee before a stressful meeting, consider tea instead.
2. Whole grain bar
The complex carbohydrates and fiber in whole grains help keep insulin levels at bay, thus diminishing the signal for your body to store fat. Bars made with whole grains offer a convenient and healthy option when at work, but it can be hard to find one without added sugars or fillers. A top choice is KIND Healthy Grain Bars made with 100 percent whole grains like amaranth, quinoa, oats, millet, and buckwheat.
Each bar provides one-third of your daily whole grain needs, and might help keep your weight in check, too. Research conducted at Harvard Medical School showed that intake of high-fiber, whole-grain foods was associated a lower weight, while consumption of refined grain foods was associated with increased weight.
Are you hungry, tired or thirsty? Most Americans don’t consume the amount or water their bodies need. Your body needs water to function normally and when you’re dehydrated you may also feel tired, have trouble concentrating, or wind up eating more than usual, because your brain often misinterprets thirst as hunger. Keep a reusable water bottle at work and if you find the taste of water boring – infuse it with lemons, limes, strawberries or cucumbers.
Nutrient-packed and portable, grapes are a perfect fruit to keep at the office. Not only are they easy to grab-and-go, they are also a fun and healthy snack to share with co-workers. In season now through January, a serving of grapes from California provides just 90 calories, contains no fat or cholesterol, has virtually no sodium, and is an excellent source of vitamin K.
Grapes may also contain a component to help you perform better at work. Research on grape juice shows it has been shown to increase the production of dopamine in the brain – a feel-good neurotransmitter that is essential for memory and problem solving. For some added power, pair a handful of grapes with a few almonds or a cube of cheese for protein. You can also keep some grapes in the freezer at work for a better-for-you frozen treat.
Nuts are an excellent food for snacking or for topping off your salad or yogurt at work. Unlike a bag of potato chips, full of empty carbs, the healthy fats, protein, and fiber in nuts keep you feeling fuller, longer.
Nut consumers also tend to live a healthier lifestyle. A large 2013 study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School showed that people who ate nuts seven or more times a week had a lower death rate than individuals who did not eat nuts. Since nuts are high in calories it’s best to pre-portion your servings in small bags or buy the pre-portioned snack packs at the grocery store. A servings size of nuts is 1 ounce (1/4 cup), which is about a handful.
6. Dried fruits and veggies
While fruits and vegetables are low in calories and bursting with important vitamins and minerals, sometimes a lack of time means a lack of produce in your diet. Dried peas, dried banana chips, dried carrots, dried apples, and dried blueberries are just a few convenient produce options to keep in your desk drawer for a “smart” snack.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that high fruit and vegetable intake is positively correlated with antioxidant status and cognitive performance in healthy adults. Look for brands of dried fruits and vegetables with nothing added – for example, dried peas should contain just peas.
Popcorn is perfect for munching at work. With only about 30 calories per cup, this whole-grain snack is extremely low-calorie as compared to the 100 calories per cup minimum of most chips and snack mixes. Popcorn also provides fiber and antioxidants for good health. You can air-pop your popcorn at home or purchase an all-natural one in the store. Avoid microwave popcorn as it tends to be expensive and can have unhealthy ingredients added. To flavor it up, go for a hint of olive oil and salt, herbs and spices, cinnamon and brown sugar, or sprinkle your popcorn with chili powder and lime for something spicy.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Visit her website at http://www.patriciabannan.com/.