Health and WellbeingMental Health Awareness Week 2019The impact of missing lunch on health: advice from a GP

The impact of missing lunch on health: advice from a GP

Dr Preethi Daniel, Clinical Director, London Doctors Clinic reveals the importance of having a lunch break and what you can do as an employer to support your team

To boost productivity at work, a lunch break is critical. Despite this, many ignore this downtime, either by choosing not to eat or by eating at their desk whilst working, to try and ensure that they can leave on time. Not only is this having a significant impact on your concentration and productivity but it’s also impacting your health.


How does food improve your concentration and productivity?

Eating rich or even sugar rich foods can result in a post-meal crash, causing your staff to become fatigued and feel sluggish – which doesn’t really lend itself to having a productive afternoon.

This is clearly the last thing you want your employees to be feeling. To keep energy levels up, there are certain foods that can give your team a boost for the rest of the day – fruit and vegetables are particularly high in vitamins and can be a source of healthy fats. Essential to beating that 2pm slump!

As you may well know, certain foods can not only give a sometimes much needed boost to your energy levels, but can also increase your brain function! Specifically, looking into your glucose-intake can aid your productivity… or lack of.

Foods such as dark chocolate, blueberries and nuts can help your brain power – after all, this is the reason why the top athletes follow strict diets rich in these types of foods before big events. Your body is a machine, and as with any machine, it needs to be refueled and glucose is the main fuel for the brain.

Before you start dishing out sweets in the office, let me be clear: glucose doesn’t mean sugar. Glucose is the byproduct which breaks down those snacks. Slow release foods such as whole grains and lower GI foods will help sustain energy levels for longer.

Who should take a full lunch break?

While everyone should be taking a full lunch break, those with diabetes should be particularly encouraged to have regular breaks to keep their energy levels up. They should eat regular meals and snack as necessary.

However, there is no link between things like iron deficiency and missing lunch.

How can I help as an employer?

According to the government every 6 hours of continuous work requires a 30-minute break and this should absolutely be honoured. Neurones in the brain can become tired from being in the same place, and so, eating at the desk is not considered a good way to replenish cognitive stock.

Technically speaking, our brains can only work for around 90 minutes before needing to recharge, therefore a lunch away from the office for up to 30 minutes should be actively encouraged. You’ll find that you’ll get more from your team by promoting this.

While you can’t impose a healthy eating regime upon your employees, you can promote a healthier diet whilst in the workplace by detailing and educating them on the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle. This could possibly be completed by posting informative bulletins on the company intranet, or having posters around the lunch room. Perhaps even consider providing your staff with free fruit and healthy snacks in the office – it could be a very worthwhile expense.

What Happens When You Skip Lunch Altogether?

While there are lots of articles in the media about healthy eating, lunch is often forgotten and breakfast and dinner times are seen as priority. Because of this, we tend to focus more on the contents of our breakfast and dinner and fall into the habit of settling for a sad little sandwich at our desks for our lunch.

However, by skipping lunch or not getting the right lunch, you are starving your brain and muscles of the key nutrients needed to optimally function at peak level. Glucose, hydration and antioxidants are very important to ensure optimum productivity and concentration, and low levels of any of these can cause irritability, poor concentration and thus, reduced productivity.

As an employer it may be beneficial to plan ahead and provide healthy balanced meals and snacks in your canteen. It would also be beneficial to pay particular attention and avoid food and drinks which are high in salt and sugar.

Do You Have Any Advice for Night Workers?

Eating at night increases fat storage and negatively impacts metabolic conditions such as diabetes. There is also evidence which suggests that a compound implicated in heart disease is higher in night workers and this increases with meat intake.

Night workers should ensure that they eat 3 healthy meals at regular intervals and make a conscious effort to avoid high fat and high protein diets at night.

Employers should also encourage staff who work night shifts to snack less and eat a balanced meal of lean protein and vegetables.

Why Is This Issue So Prevalent in The UK, In Your Medical Opinion?

Lunch has never really been given the opportunity to take centre stage. We advertise and encourage breakfast but we don’t educate people in the same way on the benefits of having a balanced lunch.

There is little Public Health input on this matter and little awareness amongst employers. There is also a culture in UK offices of ‘lunch and learn’ or lunch meetings and this can inhibit productivity as employees are not given time to rest.

A lunch break should be just that – a break!

Dr Preethi Daniel, Medical Director at London Doctors Clinic, the UK’s leading private GP surgery

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