Nutrition should form an integral element of workplace health and wellbeing strategies.
Poor nutrition, after all, can increase the risk of many chronic conditions, from heart disease to diabetes.
The impact of obesity on business has been well documented with an estimated cost to the UK economy of £47 billion a year – and a study by Willis PMI Group found that nearly a third of employees believe their employers should help them lose weight.
Nutritional advice, wellbeing schemes and healthy canteen food can all play an important role in achieving this, helping protect the long-term health of businesses by reducing sickness absence and promoting improved productivity.
Nutritional myths and dietary misinformation are commonplace however, often sabotaging employees’ best efforts to live fit and healthy lives.
Test your knowledge with our ‘true or false’ quiz – and get the facts.
1/ Carbohydrates make us fat
NHS Choices points out that eating too many calories, whether carbs, protein or fat, will contribute to us gaining weight.
The school of thought that carbs are bad, however – perpetuated over recent years by low carb diets – can be misleading. Gram for gram, carbohydrate contains fewer than half the calories of fat and, in a healthy diet, they are a vital source of energy.
It should be remembered that not all carbs are the same. Sweets and cakes, for example, have limited nutritional value while containing high levels of sugar and calories that can increase the risk of weight gain and tooth decay.
Carbs found in fruit, vegetables, pulses and starchy foods, however, can be particularly beneficial to our health, providing us with a variety of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
For employees that exercise regularly, carbs also fuel the body’s muscles and aid recovery.
2/ Eating more frequent meals burns more calories
A theory is frequently championed that the more often we eat, the more our metabolism is stimulated, which results in more calories burned.
However, most research studies suggest this is a myth. A 2009 review* of 179 abstracts found “no significant relation between meal frequency and weight loss”. Nutritionists tell us that calorie intake is what really matters when it comes to weight loss.
Despite this assertion, it is generally believed that eating more frequently throughout the day helps maintain our energy and blood sugar levels and reduces our hunger cravings. For employees, this may translate to improved levels of concentration, job focus and productivity.
*Association between eating frequently, weight and health, Nutr Rev. (2009)
3/ Science shows that eating breakfast helps us lose weight
Dr James Betts, a senior lecturer in nutrition at the University of Bath confirmed to the New Scientist that there is a lack of scientific evidence to back up the claim that eating breakfast boosts our energy and kick-starts our metabolism.
This suggestion is rather the result of powerful advertising campaigns.
A University of Bath study* published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that skipping breakfast did not affect fat levels or make people gain more weight. It did however show that eating breakfast could encourage obese people to exercise more.
“If weight loss is the key there is little to suggest that just having breakfast or skipping it will matter,” said Dr Betts. “However, based on other markers of a healthy lifestyle, like being more active or controlling blood sugar levels, then there’s evidence that breakfast may help.”
* The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in obese adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2016)
4/ Good hydration helps us concentrate
Poor hydration can affect employees’ memory, attention, concentration and reaction times.
Research* from the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory and published in The Journal of Nutrition found that even mild dehydration alters a person’s mood, energy levels and mental function.
The National Hydration Council provides guidelines for the types of fluid to drink. Water is the only fluid they recommend drinking “plenty” of as it contains no sugar, calories or additives. The European Food Safety Authority advises a daily intake of 2.5 litres of water for men and two litres for women.
*Mild Dehydration Affects Mood in Healthy Young Women (2011)
5/ Science has linked eating fruit and veg with greater creativity
Researchers at the University of Otago have looked into whether frequent fruit and vegetable consumption can be linked with this state of mind – known as eudaemonic wellbeing.
The study*, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, found there was a link between the two, with a healthy diet being related to “other aspects of human flourishing, beyond just feeling happy”. People who ate more fruit and veg were also found to display greater curiosity and more creativity during their day-to-day lives.
While the researchers acknowledged more research is needed, they suggested that Vitamin C might be the magic ingredient. Vitamin C is related to the production of dopamine, “a neurotransmitter that underlies motivation and promotes engagement”.
Fruit and veg can also reduce the risk of health problems such as heart disease, strokes and some cancers. The ‘five a day’ campaign is based on advice from the World Health Organization.
*On carrots and curiosity: eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life (2015)