How does your employees’ gut affect their day-to-day life?

As society becomes more conscious of wellbeing and how to improve our mental health, now is the time to consider how diet might be affecting your employee’s everyday mood and performance.

Sian Baker, head of health and nutrition services, Health Hub – the online health platform helping people take control of their health – and Dr Chris Golby, director, Lumien – the platform helping employers to balance mental wellbeing and productivity – consider the importance of an individual’s diet on their mental health and how this can support workplace productivity.

‘You are what you absorb’

“Lots of people do not realize the effect diet has on your overall mental health because they do not realize how much of the serotonin we produce is made in the gut,” says Sian Baker.

“A huge 95% of serotonin in the body is made in your gut, meaning if it is not healthy or happy, your ability to produce the hormone can be impaired.

Serotonin is your natural mood stabilizer, regulating anxiety, happiness, sleep and overall mood. So if production is inhibited, this can have an impact, sometimes a profound one, on how you feel. ”

Supporting mental health with diet

“To ensure optimum serotonin production, the amino acid, tryptophan, is important and can be found in various high protein foods, such as nuts, eggs, cheese and red meat, for example. Low protein diets can reduce the ability to produce serotonin effectively and increase the possibility of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. ” continues Sian.

“If you’ve struggling with sleep, it’s important to ensure you’re incorporating enough magnesium into your diet, which can be found in wholegrains and vegetables and can often be found wanting in diets high in processed foods.

We can all admit we’ve been guilty of using caffeine, sugar and alcohol as stress relievers, but these can perpetuate mental health problems by elevating the stress response, blood sugar spikes and causing inflammation in the gut.

Getting the ratio right between omega 3 and 6 fatty acids is important for the body as a whole, and definitely for the gut when talking inflammation. Most people consume enough omega 6 because it’s found in oils used in many pre-packaged foods, however omega 3 – found in oily fish, seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables – is frequently under consumed. Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory and can help boost gut health to improve mental health. ”

The effects of nutrition in the workplace

“There is a lack of recognition of the link between nutrition and mental health, meaning companies will often focus on tackling mental health with individual programs, such as resilience training, instead of looking at the whole picture,” Chris Golby comments.

“Our data has found employees are impacted by poor wellbeing 27% of the time, with companies losing 17% of productivity on average. This equates to approximately £ 5,318.45 per employee annually. Research has also shown that poor nourishment can actually reduce your employees’ efficiency by 20%.

“However, it’s not just nutrition and poor mental health that’s affecting the workplace, as they all affect each other,” continues Chris.

“An increased workload and stress is likely to affect an employee’s nutrition, they may not have time to eat during the working day, may be reliant on caffeine and sugar for energy throughout the day or may be relieving stress with fatty foods and alcohol. All of which will affect good health, which, in turn, will affect mental health and productivity at work. ”

Supporting your employees’ mental health through diet

“Most businesses are still thinking of nutrition as something for individuals to focus on outside of the workplace, but nutrition is having an effect on business performance, meaning it’s time to consider how a holistic approach will encourage prospering businesses,” continues Chris.

“This could be a workplace nutrition program with supporting coaching programs, or a subsidized nutritious lunch or snack in the workplace to promote balanced diets as well as wellbeing support, for example.”

“It’s most important about employers taking responsibility for their employees’ mental and physical health with a proactive strategy that supports happiness and health in their roles. However, all companies are different, so developing an evidence-based strategy is key to demonstrating how employees are being listened to while their health is supported, ”concludes Chris.

For more information on how data can support your team’s mental and physical health, visit Lumien or call 0330 120 0835.

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