Economics & Food: How ‘Good’ Food Can Be Bad.
It’s not just about eating ‘good’ food; it’s about eating the right food for you, and that may mean avoiding some healthy foods.
Ever wondered why that healthy salad or wholegrain bread can leave you feeling off your game? Coming off the success of the previous Economics and Food article, I’ve partnered up with Mettle + Grace to explore the hidden costs of having the wrong diet.
Maybe you’ve never realised it but some foods can leave you feeling low on energy, bloated, or just a bit off, and surprisingly the wrong diet can be harmful in a range of ways. The wrong food can hurt productivity at work, increase costs at the supermarket, increase future health care costs and ultimately cost us happiness. For me, writing this article became a huge eye opener. As someone who thinks they eat well, I was shocked to find that there are foods that I should avoid, and if I want to perform at the top of my game and think clearly then I should limit my intake of things like legumes and onions.
“You only get out, what you put in.”
Personalise the Healthy Eating Plate
If you were hoping that this article was going to justify those guilty treats and moments at McDonald’s then I’m sorry, but it’s not. There’s no substitute for eating good food and having a balanced diet. If you want to live your best life and live longer, then you need to eat well, exercise and consider what food is right for you. Gluten free, low FODMAP, lactose free, are common examples of food intolerances and although you may not associate with any of these, there will still be foods you should avoid or minimise.
Figuring out which foods to eat and not to eat isn’t hard. It’s as simple as thinking about how you feel after each meal. Mettle + Grace recently asked their clients do an emoji food survey; in which each client assigned one of the preset emojis to how they felt after their meal. There was a distinct correlation between particular foods and mood/wellbeing.
I did the challenge for a week and discovered that foods with high quantities of onions and legumes left me bloated and lethargic. After reducing my intake of these foods I found I had more energy for longer and generally felt good.
It’s no secret that, in the simplest possible terms, your digestive system uses up energy to do its job. Your body only has so much energy to go around. This is why it makes sense to pay close attention to what you eat, especially when you’re trying to coax the best possible performance out of your mind and body.
Think about what food gives you energy and what food makes you feel off your game, then personalise the healthy eating plate to you. Remember you may not need to cut out the foods entirely, just minimise them.
Looking for a promotion or raise at work? Or simply want to do everything as best you can? Then you need to be conscious about what you’re eating.
“We rarely associate our meals with workplace performance, but science is now telling us that what we eat has a significant impact. What you have for lunch can make a meaningful difference in your cognitive performance, energy levels and critical decision-making ability. Your food choices ultimately influence your workplace success.” — Matt Mayberry
Scientists at Brigham Young University highlighted that employees with unhealthy diets were 66% more likely to report productivity loss. Intuitively we all know this. Staying alert on an empty stomach is difficult and concentrating while your stomach grumbles is virtually impossible; but when we think about workplace performance we rarely give much thought to food.
For a life filled with emails, meetings and deadlines food is often viewed as fuel. What we eat directly impacts our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can lead to a drowsy or unproductive afternoon.
“Now here’s the part we rarely consider: Not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate. Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereal and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Others, like high fat meals (think cheeseburgers and BLTs) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.” — Harvard Business Review
To take your work performance to the next level it’s important to plan meals and snacks in advance. Unhealthy lunch options tend be cheaper and more convenient than their healthy alternatives. These quick and cheap lunches feel like efficient options amongst a busy day but the saving of 10 minutes at lunch can be at the cost of weaker performance and that next promotion you were looking for.
Cost of supplements
To curb the costs of a poor diet, the wrong diet or to ‘get an edge’ some of us go to supplements and vitamins. According to Johns Hopkins, half of all American adults and 70 percent of people over 65 take a multivitamin or other vitamin/mineral supplement regularly. The spending on supplements in the U.S. is an estimated $12 billion per year and in Australia it’s a whopping $2.8 billion. Interestingly, the Johns Hopkins research went on to state that the money spent on vitamins and supplements might be ‘better spent on real sources of vitamins such as fruits, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates, and dairy products.’
Medication for gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance or even to calm down acid reflux and a gassiness are poor substitutes for a simple shift in diet. In the modern age of consumption and instant gratification there appears to be a tendency to eat what you feel like and then buy something to remedy the consequences. Rather, we should be eating delicious foods that are right for us and either saving the money we’d have spent on supplements or putting it toward something that makes us happier.
Cost in future health care
In 2017 the World Health Organisation published: Assessing the economic costs of unhealthy diets and low physical activity. This ground breaking research highlighted that unhealthy diets and low levels of physical activity are among the main risk factors for chronic diseases.
It’s only natural that putting our bodies under stress by eating food we can’t digest properly will lead to health issues in the future. Yet, this doesn’t seem to stop us from eating poorly. You only get one body and that body has to last a lifetime, so we should be treating it with respect and taking care of it as best we can. But the published evidence overwhelmingly shows that people have unhealthy diets for prolonged periods of time and this leads to higher health care expenditure for the individual and for governments.
The cost to government from unhealthy diets that eventuate into type 2 diabetes is estimated to be $284 million. The cost to the individual with diabetes includes things like pricking their fingers to monitor their glucose, having a strict diet, and ultimately a higher risk of an early death. Wouldn’t it just be easier to eat the right foods now than to risk it all and suffer in the future? It must be noted that this cost considers the cost of diabetes and not other health issues that could arise from a poor diet like kidney disease, heart disease, liver inflammation, digestive problems etc.
Cost in happiness
The biggest cost of eating the wrong food is the cost to our personal wellbeing and happiness. The activities that we miss out on because our diet has left us feeling ‘not up to it’ or the details and moments we miss because our brain hasn’t ‘switched on’.
Eating the wrong food may leave you feeling physically unwell but it also affects your mood and happiness. The British Journal of Health Psychology found that:
“The more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), the happier, more engaged, and more creative they tended to be.Fruits and vegetables contain vital nutrients that foster the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the experience of curiosity, motivation, and engagement. They also provide antioxidants that minimize bodily inflammation, improve memory, and enhance mood.”
Don’t be hangry, bloated, tired or just not quite on form — feel amazing and live your best life at maximum performance.
- make your eating decisions before you get hungry.
- eat healthy food that’s right for you and your body.
- make healthy snacking easier to achieve than unhealthy snacking, and use those snacks to manage your glucose levels throughout the day.
So that healthy salad or wholegrain bread could be doing you harm because you have an intolerance to the raw onion in the salad or gluten in the bread. Remember you may not need to cut out these foods entirely, merely just reduce your intake of them. To be at peak performance and consistently feel great then eat good food that’s right for you.
If you have any questions then please feel free to comment, and if there is anything you’d like to see analysis on or read about in the future then let me know.
Chris Leeson and Mettle + Grace