Career

Eat Yourself Successful: How Food Can Make Your Productivity Boom

Reece Carter is a qualified Naturopath and herbal medicine expert, known as the ‘Garden Pharmacist’. This herb nerd wants you to know that you can actually boost your performance and productivity at work by eating the right foods.

Chances are that at some point your mother told you that one food or another was ‘brain food’, usually as a means to coax you in to downing something green, leafy, and – to a child at least – not particularly appealing. While she may not have had a firm grasp on the specifics, it turns out that Mum had a point: food affects how we think, learn, and – perhaps most importantly – remember.

Fast-forward to being a grown up, and you likely don’t have anyone telling you what to eat. But if you’re wondering why a co-worker is outperforming you, landed the promotion you were after, or is otherwise winning at life, maybe you should take a look at their lunch plate.

How we perform in the office is directly affected by what we eat. So read on for a few simple health hacks that will see you realise your professional potential.

Hack #1: Cut the crap

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The results are in, and sugar is out. Increased intake of fructose and sucrose (which itself contains fructose) has been linked to reduced cognitive function. To put it bluntly, researchers at UNSW recently commented that, “the foods which are making us fat also act to impair cognition.” So although that energy drink might seem like a good idea now, with frequent use you’ll begin to find it more difficult to concentrate, and to recall information at work.

It’s also worth considering that any ‘sugar high’ only lasts so long, and with the crash there is a marked decline in cognitive function, not to mention plummeting energy and decreased feelings of wellness. Productivity halts. Relying on sugar for energy is like shopping on credit: at some point, you have to pay it back.

You can reduce the negative effects of sugar a little by including a source of protein or fat alongside it: in doing so, you’ll slow the release of the sugar into the bloodstream, and limit those peaks and troughs.

The best bet though, is to limit sugars as much as possible. That means choosing a garden salad over a fruit one, having a protein source – think meats, eggs, nuts, and seeds – with every meal or snack, and making water your beverage of choice. If in doubt, retraining your palate to enjoy savoury foods over sweet is the way to go.

Hack #2: Don’t be so inflamed

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Inflammation of the neurons is implicated in a wide range of nervous and psychiatric disorders, but on a smaller scale it’s also been linked to a decreased ability to connect with others and perceive their emotional responses. In an office environment, this roughly translates to whether you’re a good team player or not.

But before you pop an anti-inflammatory on your way in to today’s meeting, it’s been shown that dietary intake of omega-3 unsaturated fats as well as turmeric do a pretty solid job of decreasing this problematic inflammation – without the need for a pill.

Oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are a good way to go, or if you’re vegan then you’ll want to use chia seed oil. The whole seed will work too, but you’ll need to grind them down so you can digest the oils inside.

Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, survives drying pretty well, so the powdered version of this brightly coloured spice will work just as well as the fresh form. Half a teaspoon over your meals, in chai tea, or even in a smoothie will do the job. To increase the absorption, a pinch of black pepper alongside it works wonders.

Hack #3: Get nootropic

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You may have seen the buzzword ‘nootropic’ bouncing around the Interwebs. It’s big bucks for drug and supplement manufacturers, as it indicates that a substance can improve brain function. There are plenty of naturally occurring options that you can slip right in to mealtime, though.

Beetroot, an Aussie favourite, contains nitrates that increase blood flow to the brain, bringing with it the oxygen and nutrients that we need to be firing on all cylinders at work, and keep the productivity flowing.

In herbal medicine, we use peppermint and rosemary to do the same job, so load up your meals with these herbs. Fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables all make the list of dietary nootropics too. You’re probably getting the picture by now.

Hack #4: To coffee, or not to coffee?

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I have good news: you can continue to coffee. There’s no denying that coffee has beneficial effects on brain function, and interestingly it’s not only attributed to the caffeine content, but to a whole bucket load of beneficial compounds.

You’ll do best to skip the sugar though, and to have just one daily brew first thing in the morning. Circadian rhythm dictates that before midday is when we should be most alert and active, so having your coffee before lunchtime is a good idea.

Relying on coffee as a pick-me-up throughout the rest of the day is where it becomes problematic. Not only does it act as a diuretic, flushing out valuable energy-giving vitamins, but it also lingers in your system longer than you might imagine.

Caffeine has a half-life of five or six hours, so there’s still a whole shot of that double espresso you had at 3pm buzzing about your bloodstream at 9pm. This in turn disrupts sleep, leaves you lethargic in the morning, and impairs productivity in the long run.

Instead, turn to green or peppermint tea to get you through the afternoon. These are gentler stimulants, and alongside your new low-glycaemic index diet, rich in anti-inflammatories and nootropics, I’ll see you in the boss’ office in no time.


Reece Carter is a qualified Naturopath, herbal medicine expert and Australia’s very own ‘Garden Pharmacist’. From the planter box to the pantry and with a lifelong passion for all things green, this self-professed herb nerd has the answers.