Let’s Talk About Snacks, Baby

office snacks productivity

It’s time to talk about your office snack situation.

Granted, the contents of the level 3 vending machine are probably not high on your agenda. But in the world of office management, snacks may be more worthy of consideration than you think.

After all, good nutrition begets good health — and good health makes for happier, more productive staff.

So when those 3 o’clock munchies hit, what kind of fuel do you have available?

Your brain on sugar

We can’t talk snacks without talking energy.

Our brains, like our bodies, need energy to function. That energy is supplied in the form of glucose. Some foods release glucose into the bloodstream quickly, others more slowly. We probably don’t need to tell you that it’s the sugary delicious stuff that gives you a fast (yet sadly short-lived) glucose hit.

Meantime, the slow-release foods (those low on the Glycemic Index) keep your body and mind energised for longer.

A study from UCLA found that the optimal amount of glucose to have circulating in your bloodstream is 25 grams. Dip below that and your ability to focus starts to waver — as does your self control. Distractions like your Twitter feed look mighty appealing. So does that plate of doughnuts in the staff kitchen.

So choosing the right kind of energy not only keeps you focused for longer, it prevents the kind of blood sugar crashes that perpetuate the cycle of unhealthy eating.

The science of fruit and veg

As for refined sugar alternatives, it’s hard to go past humble fruit and veg. In fact, one study from 2015 found that eating fruit and vegetables is associated with “greater flourishing in daily life”. By “flourishing” they’re talking about feelings of engagement, meaning, and purpose in life.

Bet you didn’t know that the answer to the meaning of life was carrots.

Eating fruit and veg was also related to greater self-reported curiosity and creativity — and who doesn’t need more of those in the workplace?

Those alpha omega 3s

Omega 3s are superstars of the nutrition world. They have numerous brain benefits, like boosting mood, memory and cognitive function.

Fatty fish like salmon and sardines are a great source, but don’t worry — if you’re not keen on stinking out the office you could also sneak some omega 3s into the workplace snack selection by way of nuts and seeds.

What about caffeine?

Here’s the good news. Caffeine has many proven benefits. Among them, it can quicken your reactions, make you more focused, decrease fatigue and, you know, make you feel like a human instead of a zombie.  

On the downside, it can interfere with sleep resulting in a downward spiral of energy slumps and caffeine fixes.

Maybe none of that comes as a surprise. And let’s face it, the coffee machine is not really being called into question anyway.

Still, it’s interesting to think about things like the placement of the coffee station (coffee has been found to be beneficial in meetings for example, so having coffee in or close to meeting spaces could be useful), and whether to stock some decaf options (interestingly, recent research found that even thinking about coffee can get your mind perked up, so decaf could have a kind of placebo effect).

Dark chocolate is another source of a subtle caffeine buzz, and with all those antioxidants and all who’s not willing to overlook its sugar content once in a while?

Thinking outside the (snack) box

This year’s TED conference in Vancouver featured over 100 snack items that guests could freely pillage. Quartz reports that you could find such goodies as “popped waterlily seeds, collagen-infused candy, energy-boosting gum, and protein bars made of pulverized crickets”.

TED’s snacks curator describes the offerings as “brain food,” selected to help attendees stay alert and focused during the “endurance test” that is the conference.

You might not be keen on eating crickets, but this nonetheless brings us to two points. Firstly, thinking outside the box can lead to some interesting solutions that not only have unique health benefits, but are talking points that bring people together as well.

And secondly, it’s not just day-to-day office life to think about. Thoughtful snack catering is especially important at long meetings and events like conferences and training camps, where staff not only have to focus for long periods but are also limited in their food options.

So all that said, what practical things might you implement to help staff snack better and in turn improve their cognitive output?

Tips on improving your snack situation

Here are a few ideas.

  • Think low GI. We’d hardly be cruel enough to suggest you ditch every sugary snack, but having appealing options that are low on the glycemic index can help keep people focused for longer. Low GI snacks include wholegrain crackers, quinoa, hummus, cheese, oat bars, greek yoghurt, raw nuts, and nut butters.
  • Add some omega 3s. Walnuts, linseed and chia seed are all rich in DHA, an important type of omega 3.
  • Offer fresh fruit and veg. There are plenty of subscription services for organic produce boxes, so one option is to check out some of these that deliver to your area.  
  • Make deals with food companies. Call around and negotiate deals and partnerships. You might try for those out-of-the-box products that are looking to find new markets.

In short…

A well-fuelled, well-nourished brain is more focused and more productive. From vending machines to coffee machines, conferences to afternoon teas, how you cater to staff can make a big difference to their health, happiness, and work output.

So how do your snacks stack up?

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