For several years I worked in a home office for a very successful businessman who is a tax consultant and financial advisor. One of my most vivid memories is the beautiful and healthy meals my employer would prepare for himself in his home kitchen: breakfasts consisting of fresh fruit, homemade oatmeal, and eggbeaters’ omelets cooked in extra-virgin olive oil; and lunches of delectable mixed greens topped with chicken or salmon.
My boss always needed to be alert and in top mental form; calls came in a constant stream from clients needing help with complex tax preparation and financial matters. He knew that what he ate had a significant impact on his brain power and job performance, and that certain foods would enable him to sustain a steady level of energy needed throughout his workday.
If you are one of the ever-increasing number of individuals who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, you have a golden opportunity that your corporate office counterparts probably do not – to prepare tailor-made healthful meals and snacks throughout the day that can increase your alertness, memory, concentration and performance.
The latest scientific findings suggest a strong link between what you put into your body and how it makes you feel, think and perform. Learn to prepare foods that will feed both your body and mind.
Breakfast: A Break from the Fast
When we awaken, most of us have not eaten for at least eight hours. We need to literally “break from the fast,” and get our motors running with the fuel of healthy foods.
Recent studies show that a good breakfast: helps improve mental performance and concentration during morning activities, aids weight loss, increases the likelihood of meeting daily nutrient needs, and helps to sustain energy levels throughout the day.
An optimal breakfast includes foods from at least three different food groups. Choose from whole-grain bread or cereal, fruit, protein, milk or yogurt, and fats. Protein-rich foods are especially important in the morning because they help prevent blood sugar highs and lows that can leave you feeling hungry and tired by mid-morning. And a measured amount of heart-healthy fats – like olive, canola, and peanut oils – is necessary for your body to function properly.
Some healthy breakfast suggestions:
· Whole grain cereal like Shredded Wheat or Grape-Nuts, with sliced banana or strawberries, and skim milk.
· An egg, lightly-buttered toasted rye or whole wheat bread, and a piece of fresh fruit.
· Cottage cheese mixed with drained canned pineapple chunks.
· Whole Wheat Pita topped with part-skim ricotta and cinnamon sugar, warmed in 350 degree oven for about 4 minutes.
· Homemade oatmeal (avoid instant): cooked with either ¼ cup of raisins or one peeled chopped apple added to the oats and water. Sprinkle a teaspoon of brown sugar on top, and add some skim milk to the bowl.
· French Toast: Beat 1 egg with ¼ cup of skim milk, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Dip whole grain bread into egg mixture just till soaked, and then fry on both sides until golden brown in a medium-hot pan with 1 teaspoon corn oil. Top with All Fruit and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
H2O for your beverage of choice
About a hundred and fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau was ahead of his time when he stated, “Water is the only drink for a wise man.”
Are you drinking enough water every day? Is your urine color a pale yellow? If not, then you’re not drinking enough H2O.
The importance of drinking water cannot be overstated; it is vital to so many body functions:
- Transports and dissolves nutrients to make them available to the body.
- Removes wastes and helps remove toxins.
- Prevents dehydration which, among other things, can zap your strength and energy.
- Regulates body temperature.
Your daily goal should be a total of six to eight eight-ounces of either water or some other healthy hydrating beverage such as skim milk or 100 percent pure fruit juice. Fresh lemon or lime juice added to water makes for a refreshing and invigorating drink; and the juice from just one lemon contains more than half the daily requirement for Vitamin C. Green tea is chock-full of antioxidants and is great hot beverage choice.
Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body, and should be kept to a minimum. A couple of cups of coffee a day can make you more alert, and boost your learning abilities and powers of reasoning, but be sure you can tolerate this amount of caffeine. If not, it will only make you jittery.
Lunch – Keep it Light
We all know about those infamous big business lunches that leave you feeling stuffed, sleepy, and sluggish; in other words, that leave you in a slump. Eat healthy at lunch but don’t overload.
In the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, it calls for Americans to eat more dark green and orange vegetables. Use lunchtime as an opportunity to get those veggie servings with the inclusion of a simple salad of, say, green leaf lettuce and shredded carrot. Try to include a small portion of protein in your lunch so that you can keep the afternoon slump at bay.
Some healthy lunch suggestions:
- Mixed greens with grape tomatoes or shredded carrot, topped with fish, chicken or cheese chunks, and tossed with a light vinaigrette; and a slice of 7-grain bread.
- Hummus (This chickpea spread can be found at your local supermarket. It’s packed with nutrients, and is even supposed to prevent wrinkles) on pita bread, and a sliced fresh tomato.
- Yogurt (try Trader Joes’ plain Greek Yogurt: it’s thick, low in calories and scrumptious) mixed with fresh fruit such as blueberries, peaches, strawberries, or bananas.
- Healthy deli meats and cheese (low salt ham and turkey, and low salt cheeses like Alpine Lace Swiss, are not only healthier for you but they taste better that the regular salt-laden varieties) on whole grain bread with mustard, lettuce and tomato
- A Frittata made with your favorite vegetable: Sauté l cup of chopped vegetables (i.e., onion, broccoli, potato, or zucchini) over medium heat in one-half tablespoon of olive oil until just tender. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Add beaten egg plus extra white, and cover. When egg is almost set, top with one ounce of shredded cheese (i.e., Swiss, cheddar, or Muenster).
Solutions to the Afternoon Slump
So … you’ve eaten a healthy and satisfying breakfast and lunch, and you get a day when you still find yourself in a mid-afternoon blue funk. Maybe you didn’t get a good night’s sleep the night before, or perhaps you just need to take a 10 minute walk to get revitalized. Are you dehydrated? Are you drinking enough water?
Your body needs energy to make it through the day. If lunch was hours ago and you’re hungry, you may need to refuel.
Some healthy snack suggestions: a piece of fruit, yogurt, a small handful of mixed nuts or trail mix, peanut butter or cheese on a couple of crackers, carrot or celery sticks. If you have the time, try a fruit smoothie: Blend 1 cup skim milk or plain yogurt, a cup of diced fresh fruit, 2 teaspoons of honey and six large ice cubes until thick and smooth.
Your diet has a direct effect on brain function. Use the following as a guide to target and cure whatever is ailing you and your cerebellum:
To improve your mood: chicken, turkey, fish, bananas, pineapples, eggs, nuts, cheese, milk and beans.
To keep your senses sharp: sunflower seeds, peanuts, red meat and oysters.
To improve concentration and energy levels: salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and canola oil.
To improve or maintain overall brain function: chicken, pork, fish, nuts, legumes, rice, pasta, bananas, oranges, strawberries, melons, lemons, and green leafy vegetables.
Have you noticed yet that nowhere has it been suggested that you eat a 670-calorie, fat-laden, over-frosted Cinnabon? Or a candy bar? This is because eating sugary refined carbs can cause a blood sugar high and then a surge to low, leaving you drained and lackluster. In addition, eating just carbs at a meal can induce feelings of lethargy; not the best thing to feel during a work day.
Just remember that for health and work performance, we can all fare better with less refined grains, total fats, added sugars and calories.
A March 2005 research study cited by Quentin Reade in Personneltoday.com revealed: “A survey of workers show that if they worked from home they believe they would eat more healthily” and that “working from home could improve our eating habits.” All you home office workers out there, don’t let them eat their words.
Copyright 2005 Attard Communications, Inc.