Monday, October 22, 2007

Health: Eat Bananas at the Office

It didn't take me long to make the connection between office performance and eating habits. They ate lightly and the food they ate was the type you would find in Canada's Food Guide.

"Eat a banana," the government official advised me.

He knew I would lead or participate in challenging meetings, and he was offering a tip on what to do immediately before entering the meeting room.

Vancouver nutrition consultant Adam Hart says an abundance of scientific literature points to a strong link between good eating and mental alertness. "It's what's in the food that we're eating and how our bodies use food," says Hart, of Clear Impact Consulting, which provides employee wellness programs to employers. "It's all about how to increase the nutritional value of what we need."

A University of Florida-Gainesville economist has shown that even bad food can yield benefits (though clogged arteries and obesity would be a likely long-term consequence).

Short Term Cognitive Upgrade

David Figlio wrote about how Virginia school districts strategically altered school menus during exam periods in an apparent attempt to artificially increase test scores. They fortified their students with extra "empty calories" - calories that have major very-short-term cognitive effects but no long-term benefits.

So, being open-minded, I have embraced power eating to the greatest extent that self-discipline will permit. I still consider myself a work-in-progress in this area, but I believe I have managed to avoid physical and mental decrepitude by pursuing good eating habits.


Here are some of my workplace discoveries: Eating a banana or any piece of fruit immediately before a meeting does produce sufficient mental energy to get through the meeting without babbling or snoozing.

I'm at my best communicating with my colleagues or the public on difficult matters when I'm functioning on a near-empty stomach, provided that I ate well during my last meal at breakfast or lunch and have a glass of water onhand.

Blood: Brain or Belly?

My wife, a devotee of Arizona diet-wellness guru and physician Dr. Andrew Weil, explains that this is the result of blood being in the brain instead of in a headlong rush to the stomach when the belly has just been filled with food.

I function well without caffeine, consuming herbal tea and tap water in the morning. However, I continue to drink moderate amounts of black coffee in the afternoon out of habit and - occasionally - to combat drowsiness from lack of sleep.

Elimate Caffeine (to combat moodswings)

The eventual elimination of coffee - which I did once before for two years - will be my next milestone.

One of my greatest discoveries is the use of hot cereals made from non-mainstream grains such as amaranth, quinoa and millet.

The continuous, even output of energy provided by a breakfast of hot amaranth (which can be slow-cooked overnight) and brazil nuts and raisins gets me through any morning with a clear mind and light body.

All of this is consistent with the teachings of Dr. James F. Balch and Phyllis A. Balch in their book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, which extols the benefits of carbohydrates, the main source of blood sugar, a major fuel for all of the body's cells and the only source of energy for the brain and red-blood cells.

"Aim for variety, and include as much fresh food as you can in your diet," Weil wrote in a 2005 Time magazine article.

"Minimize your consumption of processed and fast food. Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and try to include carbohydrates, fat and protein in every meal."

(Brock Ketcham can be reached at
NVDL: Kauai offers 'mood meals', but I think the same psychology that one uses in cycling, works in the office. Travel light, eat light, allowing you to cruise with a decent average speed. Heavier meals are harder to digest, and slow you down. Lighter, and more frequent meals give you better energy and alertness. This is why fruit is such a good alternative. I have a banana standing by right now.

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