Nutrition tips for Working from Home
EU Project Manager and Nutritionist Jackie Lyons shares tips on remote working as part of our Bite-Size learning series.
In the hybrid office that we all now inhabit, where the boundaries between our workplace and kitchen table have become blurred, we can be excused for snacking to get through the day.
However, now that we have started to become accustomed to the “new normal”, Jackie Lyons is on hand to provide tips on how we might get that balance back. Jackie forms part of our Prime UCC team and is EU Project Manager on the Smart Protein project, funded by Horizon 2020.
#1 Enjoy your caffeine – but know your limits!
Did you know that 80% of adults globally start the day with a caffeine drink?
Coffee increases mental alertness and physical performance. There’s no evidence of carcinogenicity at any level of intake, nor is there evidence for an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in coffee drinkers (though coffee can push up blood pressure in the short term). Coffee drinkers have a lower incidence of Type 2 Diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The benefits may be linked to the high levels ofprotective antioxidants found naturally in coffee.
In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a review on the safety of caffeine and concluded that single caffeine doses of 200mg, or habitual daily intakes of 400mg, do not give rise to safety concerns for adults, with the exception of pregnant or breastfeeding women. For context, aStarbucks double espresso, flat white or latte ‘grande’ provides 150mg caffeine, while a cup of instant coffee provides 60-80mg.
Caffeine is a stimulant and with enough of it in our systems, we will all eventually experiencesymptoms like a racing heartbeat, the shakes, feelings of unease and insomnia. Individual sensitivity to caffeine varies, so for some these effects will occur at much lower intake levels. The trick is to know your limits – find that sweet spot where you get the stimulant effects of caffeine withoutgiving yourself the shakes.
#2 Infused waters are your friend…
Being adequately hydrated (or having enough fluids in your system) is important for optimal physicalfunction. It’s also important for optimal cognitive function, being associated with improvedconcentration, alertness and short-term memory.
The simplest way to gauge your hydration status is to note the colour of your urine. Clear or light-coloured urine shows good hydration, while darker, more concentrated urine suggests dehydration. Note that some vitamin supplements, such as riboflavin (vitamin B2), may colour the urine yellow.
Our national dietary guidelines recommend drinking ‘at least 8 cups of fluid a day’ and state ‘water is best’. Tea, coffee, juice drinks and milks all count as fluids when it comes to hydration, but ideally,we should look upon water as our main drink. Studies have shown that water, consumed in place of sugar-sweetened beverages, juice, and milk, is associated with reduced energy intake. Being energy (calorie) free, water is helpful when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight.
If you currently drink no water during your working day, try starting with one glass (~250ml) andmaybe build up to two throughout the day. There is no advantage to drinking copious amounts ofwater or other fluids once you are adequately hydrated. Some people find drinking water to be a bit of a chore. Try infusing water with your favourite herbs, fruit or vegetables to add subtle, natural flavour - rosemary and orange, cucumber and mint or a handful of fresh or frozen berries all work well.
#3 You can minimise (but not avoid) the 3pm slump
Humans are programmed to take their main rest between dusk and dawn, and to experience asecondary dip in energy levels mid-afternoon, somewhere between 1pm and 4pm.
This post-prandial dip is recognisable to many of us as ‘the 3pm slump’. It is primarily driven bycircadian rhythms (our bodies hormonal cycles of sleep and wakefulness) but may be compounded by the mild hypo glycaemia (or blood sugar dip) that happens naturally following ingestion of a meal. Some days you may barely notice this slump, while other days it may be a struggle to work through it.
While it’s unrealistic to think it can be fully eliminated, it is possible to minimise it.
Consider your bedtime habits – late nights and alcohol will make that dip in energy more obvious the following day. Think about hydration – being adequately hydrated helps with alertness and energy levels. Schedule productive work for the morning if necessary and use the afternoon for lighter tasks.
A nutritionally balanced mid-afternoon snack will also help you through the slump. Good 3pm snack choices include some carbohydrates for energy and some protein for satiety (dinnertime being a few hours away yet). Low glycaemic index carbohydrates (like wholegrains) allow for a more sustained energy release. Wholegrain crackers and cheese, trail mix, hummus and veg, toast and nut butter,yoghurt with fruit or even a milky coffee are all decent snack choices.
#4 Use the structure of the working day to your advantage
If you are a daytime, desk-based worker, you are already at an advantage when it comes to making healthy food choices at work. It is far more challenging for night shift workers, for instance, to make healthy food choices when they are eating during the usual sleep period and available food options may be limited.
The working day typically provides routine, structure and more defined eating occasions when compared to the non-working day. Many of us will have coffee at the same time each day at work orchoose a similar lunch each day. Routine can be advantageous when it comes to maintaining healthyfood habits.
If you find that the quality of your diet has deteriorated during the work-from-home period, try re-framing your day in a more structured way. Think about reverting somewhat to the office routinewith its more defined eating occasions. This will require some thought and pre-planning, but planning meals, snacks and even physical activity ahead of time means they are much more likely to happen.
Working from home also means you have your fridge, microwave and grill to hand to create somequick but appetising lunch options.
#5 Emotional eating (is normal)
Emotional eating is a normal human behaviour, and it is rare that we eat without any emotion attached to the process. We eat to celebrate good times, to soothe anxiety and to relieve boredom.
With all of the recent changes and life challenges, you may have noticed your eating patterns respond in a more emotional way than normal.
Food has an important role in self-care, but it should not become our only means of coping. If you feel this is happening, try listening to your in-built hunger and satiety cues and aim to avoid becoming either too hungry or too full. Give yourself permission to eat all foods - sometimes thefoods that we restrict in our diet become the very foods that are binged on for comfort. Build up your self-care toolbox – food may relax you, but try to identify some other things that do too, such as exercising, chatting with a friend, etc. Support is available if you have difficulty managing this alone.
And finally, while working from home certainly has its challenges, don’t forget to take note of the positives – like reduced household food waste, cost savings on takeaway coffees or simply the opportunity for more shared family meals.