When you’re faced with a hectic workday, it can be all too easy to make some not-so-healthy food choices in between attending meetings, checking emails and returning phone calls. In the moment, it might seem harmless, but that burger and fries you had for lunch may come back to haunt you (and your productivity) later in the afternoon. In fact, poor nutrition can significantly impact your ability to perform well on the job, because it can lead to fatigue, lower energy levels, decreased mental effectiveness and a reduced ability to think clearly, according to HealthLine.com, a health information site.
That’s why it’s important to consume healthy foods and beverages consistently throughout the day, rather than waiting until you’re starving to have a snack or meal, advises Keri Glassman, a New York City-based nutritionist and founder of NutriousLife.com. It’s not easy. You’re more likely to make poor food choices when you’re under a time crunch, Glassman says, and it’s not always realistic — or cost effective — to grab fresh, nutritious foods while at the office.
With input from nutrition experts, we’ve identified several so-called superfoods that purportedly pack extra health benefits to help keep you focused and effective on the job. In addition, we’ve outlined cost-friendly options for where to buy and how to prepare these items without breaking the bank or taking up too much time. Take a look at our list of 10 superfoods to boost workplace productivity.
It’s no secret that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Starting off with high-protein foods such as eggs with vegetables or sliced tomato and smoked salmon is ideal. However, if you crave carbohydrates and need something a bit more filling first thing in the morning that’s also high in protein, a bowl of real steel-cut oats is best, says Oz Garcia, a New York City-based nutritionist whose clients include celebrity A-listers such as actress Hilary Swank and supermodel Naomi Campbell. It’s a much healthier option than the processed cereals you’ll find at traditional grocery stores that are loaded with sugar, he notes.
At a Washington, D.C.-area Starbucks location, a 12-ounce cup of their classic oatmeal costs $3.45. While convenient — especially if you’re pressed for time — you can spend much less by making your own oatmeal at home. At Target, you can buy a 30-ounce canister (about 21 servings) of their store brand Market Pantry steel-cut oats for $3.89. If you’re concerned about the preparation time taking too long (roughly 20 minutes on the stove), there are many overnight oatmeal recipes that call for prepping and mixing the ingredients the night before, so the oatmeal is ready to eat in the morning. If you’re planning ahead, you could even prepare larger quantities to last throughout the week.
Some people might buy protein shakes or green smoothies when they’re in need of an extra boost of energy during a busy work day. Yes, they’re tasty, but a glass of water provides the same effect. In fact, staying hydrated plays a key role in helping to maintain energy levels and combat drowsiness. “Very often people think they’re tired, when they’re really just dehydrated,” says NutritiousLife.com’s Glassman.
A reusable bottle and filtered tap water can do the trick. Or, consider purchasing a multipack of bottled water at your local grocer for pennies per bottle when you factor in the unit price. For example, at Walmart you can buy a 32-count pack of 16-ounce bottles of Deer Park water for $4.96. That amounts to about 15 cents each — a steal, especially since you could easily pay $1 for a single bottle of water at a vending machine or even more from a restaurant close to your office.
If you must have caffeine to stay afloat, there’s a much healthier option than coffee. Consider swapping out that cup of joe for some green tea, Garcia advises. A cup of green tea has about 30 milligrams of caffeine compared to 200 milligrams found in coffee. This is important, because the tea won’t cause you to have a caffeine high that’s followed by a sudden energy drop, he adds. The “crash and burn” feeling that’s commonly associated with coffee occurs when that rush of caffeine that’s coursing through your system abruptly wears off.
Keep a green tea stash at your desk so you aren’t tempted to go buy a pricey cup of coffee at a nearby Starbucks (the cost for a 12-ounce cup of brewed coffee can run $2 or more, depending on location). Remember, you don’t have to spend a lot even if you choose an organic version. For example, at Target you can buy a package (containing 20 tea bags) of their store brand Simply Balanced organic green tea for $2.99.
Snacking on fruit throughout the day is an easy way to keep your energy levels up. That’s because fruit is rich in vitamin C, which is a vital nutrient that helps boosts your metabolism. If you’re someone who likes to stock up on food for the workweek on Saturday or Sunday, keep your grocery bill in check by sticking with fruit that’s in-season at your local supermarket. Keep in mind that when you buy fresh produce out-of-season, you could end up paying triple the in-season price, according to FoodNetwork.com.
During the warmer months, opt for peaches, oranges and other citrus fruits, as well as melons, Garcia says. When winter rolls around, berries (including blueberries, raspberries and pitted cherries) are the smart superfood choice. You can eat these fruits as-is or use them to make a smoothie that includes a scoop of high-quality yogurt and almond milk — both of which are good sources of protein, he notes.
An added bonus: Fruit contains natural sugar, which helps satisfy your sweet tooth without ruining your diet. It’s also a good source of fiber and keeps you feeling full longer.
We’ve all been there. The afternoon slump hits and it’s become practically impossible to focus on the task at hand. One problem: You’ve got a 3 p.m. meeting on your calendar and need to be on your A-game. Rather than raid the vending machine for sugary treats, grab a cup of yogurt to help power through, recommends Glassman. In addition to being a great source of protein, yogurt also has vitamin B12, which aids in regulating the body’s metabolism rate. Add some chopped nuts and blueberries for an energizing combination of nutrients that includes antioxidants, healthy fats and fiber, she adds.
Keep a yogurt stash in the office refrigerator, so you aren’t tempted to snack on Oreos or M&Ms right before a big presentation for your boss. At a Washington, D.C.-area, Wegmans location, a 5.3-ounce container of their store brand Greek yogurt cost 79 cents. You could stock up for the workweek and spend less than $4 for five containers.
When lunchtime rolls around, go for a high-quality protein such as wild-caught salmon, Glassman advises. Wild-caught salmon is less likely to have contaminants compared to farm-raised versions. It also has an abundance of healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids, which fuel the body by providing energy. Salmon, a popular superfood, also contains several essential nutrients including potassium, iron and zinc. The latter aids in keeping your body’s metabolism rate at an optimal level.
Seafood can be costly, but that shouldn’t deter you from making better food choices. Peruse your Sunday circulars to find the best savings on needed grocery items — especially those used for meal prepping for the upcoming week. For example, you can buy a 32-ounce package of frozen wild-caught salmon for $8.49 at Aldi. The same size package of wild-caught salmon totals $28.49 at a D.C.-area Wegmans. That’s $20 more than the discount grocer.
It you’re pressed for time, it can be all too easy to grab fast food for lunch (think: pizza or a cheeseburger). However, you’re setting yourself for the afternoon slump when you load up on heavy and unhealthy foods, Garcia suggests. If you’re trying to fit a quick lunch into a busy workday, go for a leafy green salad, he recommends. It’ll help you knock out that long list of to-dos by fueling with necessary nutrients.
Kale, spinach, arugula and romaine lettuce are all rich in vitamins B and C, and also contain potassium. Studies have shown that leafy greens can assist in improving certain cognitive responses including daily memory and thinking skills, according to Consumer Reports.
To ensure your appetite is satisfied, Garcia recommends pairing a small leafy green salad with either chicken or salmon and some roasted vegetables. If you’re craving carbs, add a slice of gluten-free bread. Again, if you’re looking to cut down on food spending while at work, these are items you can pick up at your local grocer for cheap. For example, at Lidl you can purchase a 16-ounce bag of kale, a 20-ounce package of salmon and a 12-ounce bag of frozen vegetables — enough food to make lunches for an entire week — for about $14. You could easily spend that amount on a single lunchtime meal at a fast-casual restaurant.
Avocado, a perennial superfood, has a number of vital nutrients that can help you stay focused throughout the workday. This includes vitamins B and C, as well as potassium, which acts as an electrolyte and helps your body absorb necessary vitamins and minerals. It’s a versatile food that can be used in a variety of ways.
If you want to add avocado to your daily meal plan, but don’t want to be bothered with preparing it while at work, you’ve got options. Try making an avocado mash at home that you can store in the office refrigerator, Glassman suggests (we spotted a quick two-step recipe over at CookingLight.com). For an added dose of protein and fiber, she recommends spreading the mash on a piece of Ezekiel toast, which is a type of whole grain bread. The avocado toast could easily be eaten for breakfast with a hard-boiled egg or paired with a leafy green salad for lunch or eaten by itself as a midday snack.
Snacking on sugary foods and beverages — cookies, candy, soda and so on — during the day is a recipe for disaster. You can expect a sugar-induced rush that’s quickly followed by feeling lethargic as the sugar dissipates. If you’re trying to keep your energy levels up in-between meals, nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews are a smart snacking choice, Garcia advises. All are a great source of protein and fiber, in addition to containing essential vitamins that keep your body functioning properly.
If you plan on adding nuts to your grocery list, keep in mind certain varieties can be pricey. A simple way to keep costs low is to purchase store brand versions rather than name brands. For example, at Walmart a 14-ounce bag of Blue Diamond brand whole natural almonds cost $6.89. The same size package of the big-box retailer’s Great Value brand whole natural almonds totals just $4.98.
You may not always have enough time to prepare a big lunch before heading into the office. That doesn’t mean you can’t still have a nutritious meal that’s satisfying and helps fuel your productivity. A hearty bean soup — white bean, lentil or black bean — is ideal when you’re short on time, Garcia suggests. These soups are rich in protein, fiber and vitamin B.
There are a variety of affordable canned bean soups that aren’t packed with sodium that you can grab on the go and heat up for lunch in the office microwave. At Walmart, you can buy a 14.5-ounce can of Amy’s Organic low-sodium lentil vegetable soup for $2.32.