This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
Even though we all know that “you are what you eat,” there are times when that doesn’t stop us from reaching for a candy bar.
Nutrition plays a huge role in how our brain functions, which can affect how we’re able to comprehend and answer questions and can help increase productivity on the job.
Including foods that support performance and productivity in your diet doesn’t mean a lifetime of bland “health” foods, though. There are plenty of tasty superfoods you can eat to boost mental awareness and improve productivity at work.
1. Omega-3 fatty acids
Responsible for the healthy functioning of our brains, omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, build better brain cell membranes and help in the formation of new brain cells. They can also put you in a happier mood, improve memory and focus, and fight depression and dementia.
You can find omega-3s in fish (like salmon), wild game, eggs, flaxseed, kale and avocado.
2. Antioxidants and flavonoids
Antioxidants may help protect your cells from free radicals — molecules your body produces when it breaks down food or when you’re exposed to things like tobacco smoke. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant that can help your body regulate cellular activity.
Widely recognized for their antioxidant properties, berries (like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries) have a history of improving brain health. A study published in the Annals of Neurology found that those who consumed large amounts of strawberries, blueberries and other members of the berry family experienced a slower decline in memory and focus.
Blueberries, in particular, contain flavonoids that can improve cognition. One study found that school children who ate wild blueberries improved their executive function, short-term memory and mood.
3. B vitamins
B vitamins can help put you in a better mood. They help the body produce mood-boosting serotonin, dopamine and GABA, all of which balance your brain chemicals — and optimize you for better mental well-being and increased energy levels. You can get a B vitamin boost from eggs, peas, broccoli, spinach, pecans, whole grains and meat.
And speaking of B vitamins, a key member of the B vitamin family, B-12, is known for supporting a healthy nervous system, metabolic processes, adrenal function and DNA synthesis. B-12 is also important for increasing energy levels and improving one’s overall mental health.
Unfortunately for us, our bodies don’t produce B-12. So, we need to get it from animal sources, such as eggs, fish, dairy products and meat. Or, we can take it in a supplement form.
Another powerful antioxidant, lutein, can help protect against cognitive decline. Lutein also helps protect your eyes from potential problems like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Spinach is rich in lutein and has been linked to lower rates of cognitive decline, according to a study at Harvard Medical School. If spinach isn’t your thing, you can eat other leafy green vegetables like kale, broccoli, peas and lettuce. Or, try egg yolks!
Responsible for both satisfying your appetite longer and keeping you alert, protein is a must-have food that increases productivity. When compared to eating a high-carb breakfast, protein knocked it out of the park in terms of keeping people awake, as it contains lower tryptophan levels than carbs.
Foods that contain high levels of protein include nuts, beans, fish, meat and eggs.
There’s a reason why so many people start their day with a cup of joe. Caffeine has been shown to increase alertness by enhancing dopamine signals in the brain. That means caffeine doesn’t just make you more alert; it can improve your mood.
Being more alert and in a better mood is bound to make you more productive! Just remember that the effects are temporary and too much caffeine can cause you to crash.
Last but not least on our list is the source of all life, water. Many place too much emphasis on boosting their caffeine levels in the morning and not enough on just plain water intake. Staying hydrated helps physical performance and energy levels, among other things. The recommended daily water intake is two liters, a half-gallon or eight 8-ounce glasses.
Improve your productivity
There’s nothing wrong with reaching for the candy jar every once in a while. But if you want to improve your job performance (and health) over the long term, eating a diet that includes these healthy nutrients and foods that increase productivity is a better bet.
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