When it comes to lunch, do you pop out and grab a sandwich and chips? Perhaps you prefer a light salad? Or maybe you go out for a hearty work lunch alongside a glass of wine? The foods (and drinks) you choose to eat at lunch however, can very much dictate your mood, energy and productivity across the rest of the day.
Eating too much or too little can also help or hinder your afternoon; too little food can leave you hungry and lacking energy, while too much (especially of the wrong kind) can leave you bloated and full and often, drowsy.
So what’s best to eat and what should likely be avoided? Whether you make your own lunch, or you buy it on the day, this is what you should be aiming for to achieve a solid afternoon of work, without the slumps and sleepiness!
Pick the right carbs
Forget “white” carbs like white bread and white rice; instead, opt for the whole grain varieties. Not only do they contain more fiber to keep you fuller for longer, but wholegrain such as quinoa and brown rice also contain B vitamins which support brain health, vital for powering through the afternoon!
Get your colors in
Fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, but to really enjoy an array of nutrients, you need to ensure that your lunch is packed full of color!
From the sulforaphane-packed greens such as kale and pak choi, which could protect against certain cancers to the antioxidant-filled deep purples of berries and beetroot; different colors indicate different nutrients. Red tomatoes and other red vegetables for example contain lycopene, said to help protect against cardiovascular disease, while orange foods such as sweet potatoes and carrots contain beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body helping to protect eyes and make hormones.
Plus, fruits and vegetables generally contain high levels of fiber as well as vitamin C, to help boost immune health. But why is this important for afternoon productivity? Certain vitamins and minerals can help with concentration and focus, both important to get through a busy work day!
Enjoy an avocado
Half an avocado sliced, chopped, or spread is a great addition to your lunch, with research finding that it can boost the levels of lutein levels, helping with memory and concentration.
Avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fats (so do other foods such as olive oil, almonds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds) and these fats have been linked to general intelligence, proving that they support brain health.
Power up with protein
An essential macronutrient, protein isn’t just useful for the gym goers hoping to build muscle. In fact, protein is essential for every tissue in the body, and is vital for various reactions that take place. Basically, we need adequate protein to function.
Enjoy lean protein sources such as chicken, beef, eggs and fish with vegan options including tofu and tempeh. Dairy foods are also a tasty choice of protein; opt for yogurt, cheese and milk.
Oily fish are a good protein option as they also contain omega-3 fatty acids, famous for their brain-boosting abilities. Try salmon, sardines or mackerel for lunch to reap the benefits.
Avoid the sugar
A lunch filled with simple carbs such as sugary foods and the white, refined versions of foods, can cause a drastic spike in blood sugar, which might boost productivity for a short time, but in the long run, it can lead to a big sleepy slump, as well as major brain fog, neither of which are ideal for staying focused at work! It can also lead to you needing more sugary foods to help maintain energy levels, which then places you on a vicious cycle.
So, what’s the perfect lunch?
Try to strike a balance; enjoy a fist sized portion of whole grain carbs, a fist-sized portion of protein and an abundance of vegetables with some good fats such as avocado or a sprinkling of seeds, thrown in for good measure. This could be a nutritious salad, or even a warming soup filled with brown rice, meat and vegetables.
If you need something a little more portable, a wholegrain wrap filled with feta, tuna and leafy greens offers a tasty solution or even a classic wholegrain sandwich layered with your protein of choice and vegetable slices.
Alongside your power lunch , try to stick to water or non-sugary drinks to help maintain focus.
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*Content written by Lucy Gornall