Typical office life can be a very sedentary existence. Many of us spend virtually the whole day sitting at our desks or in meetings. Many jobs, especially in the financial sector, also involve lots of client lunches and dinners offering the temptations of alcohol and over-indulgent foods – sounds great (!) but over time this also has a big and negative impact on our health.
In fact what you eat each day has a huge immediate impact on your energy, and over the longer term it is directly related to such common health problems as stress, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
Altering what you consume can make a surprising difference in improving your energy levels, productivity and overall health.
Here are some of the problems that people in the financial sector typically face and how a few changes can allow you to enjoy the benefits of eating healthily and feeling much better.
Problem 1 – Lethargy from sitting at your desk all day
Many people are almost chained to their desks most of the day – so barely move for much of it! Research earlier this year confirmed that two-thirds of people not only eat at their desk everyday but even feel guilty about leaving the office during their lunchbreak.
However, sitting for most of the day won’t help energy levels. In fact it causes you to slump; making you feel even more tired!
The solution – force yourself to go for a walk, and not just at lunchtime – get up and move regularly and build it into your work. Why send your colleague an email when they are only a few feet away – go and speak to them! Even refraining from taking the lift and taking the stairs to go up and down a few floors will make a positive difference to your energy levels.
Also, taking a walk after your lunch can help to digest your food properly. Increased physical activity actually helps jumpstart your digestive system and increases the production of digestive enzymes. This will lead to more complete digestion of your food and less digestive discomfort.
Problem 2 – Hidden and unwanted ingredients in pre-packaged sandwiches and salads
City centres are full of sandwich bars and supermarkets doing a roaring trade on “meal deals” – a sandwich, packet of crisps and a fizzy or fruit drink.
Now we all know the crisps and fizzy drink are naughty. But the sandwich and fruit drink is surely a healthy option? And the supermarket salad must be a healthy winner!
Sadly not so and such prepared foods can also be an unhealthy option. For instance, sandwiches are often lined with butter and mayonnaise, while processed bread often includes surprisingly high amounts of salt and sugar.
Keeping salt levels down is important to prevent high blood pressure (the main killer in the UK) and maintain cholesterol levels; reducing the underlying health problems like high blood pressure which can easily be missed.
And don’t be fooled with pre-made salad dressings, they often have huge amounts of calories. Plus fruit juices often have so much sugar you are better off with a can of cola!
The solution – make your own lunch. You can make a sandwich or salad in less time than running to the shops, and you have full control of what goes into your food. But don’t eat it at your desk – go for a walk and sit somewhere else!
Problem 3 – Bad effects from snacking at your desk
Throughout the day many people turn to the biscuit tin, cereal bars and danishes to help kill their hunger pangs.
Such snacks contain high levels of white sugars and “refined carbohydrates” (which are harder for your body to break down compared to natural sugars). They will provide a quick energy burst but don’t really provide nutritional value in between meals… so leading you to eat more and more.
The solution – fruit and greek yoghurt. Fruit is filled with lots of natural sugars and carbohydrates and greek yoghurt is full protein, which fill you up.
If you add some greek yoghurt, and possibly some cashews nuts or almonds, it will reduce your hunger pangs. Yoghurts’ packaging always prides itself on being fat free. However, fat free doesn’t mean sugar free, even with the light options. Greek yoghurt has a much lower percentage of fat and sugar compared to most other yoghurts.
If you still need something sweet with your fruit, try adding honey or agave nectar so you don’t have to resort to chocolate or other sugary things.
Problem 4 – The mid-afternoon energy slump
Many people can start to feel lethargic during the mid-afternoon and their energy levels drop, reaching for a coffee, sugary foods or energy drinks seems the easiest option to get that energy boost.
However, these foods are hard to break down; so you can’t get all the energy needed to overcome the energy slump.
The solution – fruit again is the answer. Fructose is a great natural energy boost to overcome that energy slump, so make sure you have some on your desk for the afternoon. A great example is a banana: it is filled with potassium, containing slow-releasing energy keeping away from the slump
Also, eating the right food at lunch with combat this. For instance, vegetables which are filled with slow-releasing energy providing you with that energy boost include: carrots, green peas, beetroot (filled with vitamin B) and asparagus (has plenty of potassium).
Having good protein sources such as fish, meat, poultry, lentils, tofu and eggs for lunch works well to boost energy. Plus, if your feeling stressed fish is excellent to help relax. Fatty fish are loaded with vitamins A and D, both of which help reduce stress. Vitamin A plays an important role in immune function, skin health, antioxidant activity and healthy vision.
Vitamin D plays an important role in modulating neuromuscular and immune function as well as reducing inflammation. Stress and inflammation go hand in hand, and decreasing one invariable reduces the other.
Problem 5 – Effects from client dinners and networking
The financial sector is full of client lunches/dinners and networking events. Corporate events usually don’t offer a wide variety of choices of food, but restaurants provide plenty of healthy options to pick when at a business lunch – provided you can resist the Beef Wellington of course!
The bigger problem is managing alcohol. It is high in calories, and if you have indulged mastering a hangover is not easy – so eating the right food in the morning will help you stay productive during the day.
The solution – eggs. They are the perfect antidote to too much alcohol. They contain an amino acid called Cysteine, which combats the poisonous effects of alcohol. Mackerel works well with the eggs as it contains selenium which detoxifies the liver. Also, adding a pinch of cayenne pepper helps increase circulation and the cleansing of the blood.
Coconut water works better than a Bloody Mary. It’s the perfect liquid to rehydrate you because one carton contains more potassium than a banana and is key for feeling better quickly.
Changing your diet requires strong will power because that biscuit tin can always be very tempting. However, once you get into the routine and find that healthy eating is not boring, the changes are sustainable and will keep you strong, energetic and much healthier not only for your own personal well-being, but for your career too.
Angela Cozier is a nutritionist who advises executives and teams of employees, and is the founder of Clean Eating Nutrition (http://www.cleaneatingnutrition.co.uk/).