The Link Between Food, Mood And Productivity

Stuck in an afternoon slump? It could be time to adjust your diet.
  • Stuck in an afternoon slump? It could be time to adjust your diet.
  • Different kinds of foods are converted to energy at different rates; candy and sugary foods give you a quick lift followed by a slump, while whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the long-term reserves your body needs throughout the day.
  • Fueling your brain and body with “good” nutrients has been linked to decreased levels of anxiety and a more positive mental outlook.

We’re all familiar with the afternoon slump; that dreaded energy drop that typically happens right after lunch that makes it almost impossible to focus and be productive. It’s terrible, especially if you have a long list of to-dos or meetings to attend.

The afternoon slump can be caused by a variety of factors like lack of sleep or underlying medical conditions. However, and most commonly, it’s caused by a poor diet. What we eat impacts our mood and energy levels, so it follows that if we make changes in our diet, our physical and mental state also changes.

The Food, Energy, and Mood Link at Work

Nutritional Psychology or Nutritional Psychiatry is a growing discipline that looks at how nutrients and diet affect our mood and behavior.

The old adage of you are what you eat does have some truth to it. After all, the brain controls our entire body — from our thoughts and movements, to our heartbeat, senses, and breathing — and in order to do all of this, the brain requires energy — just like a car’s engine requires fuel — and the brain gets its daily dose of energy from the foods we eat.

It naturally follows then, that the type of foods we eat will affect the performance of our brain, and therefore our entire bodies. Nutritional psychology examines this relationship by studying the bio-physiological mechanisms and how they are influenced by our dietary intake.


When we’re at work, what we eat will greatly affect our performance. According to Harvard Health, “different kinds of foods are converted to energy at different rates, some — such as candy and other simple sugars — can give you a quick lift, while others — such as whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats — supply the reserves you’ll need to draw on throughout the day.”

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Say you’re at work and have a chocolate, donut, pastry, or other refined or processed snack. Though you’re likely to feel a sugar rush at first, boosting you with energy, that energy will be short-lived and you’ll be crashing in no time and craving even more sweets.

This is why it’s important to be mindful of what you snack on or eat for lunch during the work week, especially if you want to avoid the afternoon slump. It’s not just what you eat, but also how much you eat. Big meals tend to make people even sleepier because the body has to work overtime in order to fully process and digest the quantity of food.

However, food doesn’t just affect our energy levels, it also affects our mood and this can greatly impact our work lives. Ever notice how it’s easier to eat healthily when you’ve been eating healthily for a few days or weeks? And how it gets harder to want to eat healthily when you’ve recently indulged in some pizza, chips, sweets, fried foods, or processed foods?

According to Harvard Health, “diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”

On the other hand, fueling your brain and body with “good” nutrients has been linked to decreased levels of anxiety, a better mental outlook, and a better perception of stress. People who eat diets high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish, and seafood, and low in lean meats and dairy have a 25% to 35% lower risk of depression.

The right nutrients can not only improve our energy levels and mood, but they can also improve cognitive function. A Harvard Health article argues that certain foods that are “particularly rich in healthful components like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants” support brain health. These include berries, nuts, fatty fish, and leafy greens.

Not sure what to start packing for work lunch or snacks? Check out the best snacks to improve cognitive function in the workplace!

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