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4 Foods That Are Eating Away At Your Productivity

Have you ever been into a “food coma” after eating a large meal, especially around lunch?

Eating too much is known to cause “postprandial somnolence” which is mainly due to the activation of the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system.

Yet, some foods induce sleepiness and lower your productivity more than others. These foods usually contain specific nutrients that either directly or indirectly can reduce your alertness and lower your performance.

Some of the foods from our list might be a good choice before going to sleep, but otherwise, you risk getting sluggish and sleepy when you least desire it.

In this article, we will go over the 4 foods that can eat away your productivity according to science. Let’s dive right in.

1. Junk food

Junk food is tasty which makes you likely to overeat and feel less productive afterward. Yet, there is another issue with junk food as well – the balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

Most junk foods are rich in carbohydrates (and sometimes fats) but poor in proteins. Studies have demonstrated that both high-carb and high-fat meals harm productivity. They lower cognitive performance when compared to a balanced meal (1).

A study with 184 people revealed that they experienced increased sleepiness and lack of concentration after high-carb low-protein lunch (2).

The exact effect and severity of reduced productivity will depend on your individual glucose tolerance (3).

Junk foods usually have a high glycemic index. This means the carbohydrates break down rapidly and a large amount of glucose is available quickly. As studies have demonstrated, this leads to increased levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain (4).

Similar effects can be experienced when consuming fruit juices. They might be considered healthy, but most fruit juices lack the fiber of the whole fruit and contain nothing but sugar.

Carbohydrates lead to a spike in insulin levels. This hormone aims to lower blood sugar levels back to normal. Insulin also aids the uptake of amino acids by muscle cells, with one exception – tryptophane.

In combination with the lack of amino acid content and replenishment from the meal, this significantly increases the ratio of tryptophan to other amino acids in the blood (5).

Tryptophane becomes the main amino acid passing to the brain. There it transforms into serotonin and melatonin. These substances have strong relaxing and sleep-inducing properties.

2. Cherries

Surprisingly, cherries are amongst the richest food sources of melatonin – the sleep hormone (6).

Studies have shown that tart cherry juice can lead to a significant increase in melatonin blood concentrations (7). The studies also show that it significantly increases sleep quality.

Consuming cherries around dinner time might be a great idea. However, eating them earlier during the day might have negative effects on your productivity.

Apart from making you sleepy, melatonin also affects your body’s temperature. Studies show that this body temperature lowering effect can slow down cognitive performance. Thus, cherries reduce productivity (8).

3. Nuts

If you go hungry at work, you might decide to snack on something quick but healthy. In this case, nuts might be one of the first options that come to your mind.

However, it turns out that nuts are not only quite caloric but they are rich in multiple ingredients that can reduce productivity.

The first one is once again melatonin – apart from cherries, nuts such as almonds and walnuts are also a great source.

Another nutrient that promotes sleep and relaxation is magnesium. This mineral is known for its relaxing and sleep-promoting properties. These effects are supported by scientific evidence (9).

Almonds are on top of the list for both melatonin and magnesium content – a single ounce can provide almost 20% of your daily needs of magnesium.

4. Herbal tea

While not exactly a food, drinks such as herbal teas can also be a part of someone’s nutrition as some herbs are rich in micronutrients and antioxidants. Chamomile and lemon balm are some of the most common ingredients in herbal teas.

Studies have shown that Lemon Balm can promote calmness but also reduce alertness in people even after a single dose. In one study, the herb improved the mood of the participants but lowered their cognitive performance (10).

Chamomile is also shown to significantly reduce alertness in human trials. A study with 180 students revealed that the herb reduced their attention and impaired their working memory (11).

Because of these effects, drinking a tea containing either or both of the herbs can make you sleepy and less productive than normal.

Besides, if you load your tea with simple carbs such as sugar or honey, this can spike your insulin. It will increase the levels of serotonin and melatonin in your brain, further worsening your productivity.

The Take-Home Message

Your nutrition can have a serious impact on your productivity. Overeating is a well-known factor that can make you sluggish and lethargic – a condition commonly called “food coma”.

There are certain foods and drinks such as cherries, nuts, and herbal teas that are healthy in general. However, they contain substances like melatonin that can literally put you to sleep.

Consuming a diet consisting mainly of processed and junk foods can also eat away your productivity. That is because such foods lead to quick spikes in your blood sugar levels.

Consuming a healthy and well-balanced diet that is rich in fiber can help you maintain stable blood sugar levels. This will boost your cognitive performance, mood, and productivity.

References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8084907/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6764932/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17176639/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12499331/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6400041/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409706/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22038497/
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453096000273
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703169/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15272110/
  11. https://horizonepublishing.com/journals/index.php/PST/article/view/246