Boost mental performance with meetings menus filled with super brain foods.
Food and beverage at events has come a long way from basic tea or coffee options during breaks and the carbohydrate-heavy lunch offering that used to be the mainstays of meetings catering. Alongside increasingly discerning palates and public interest in cooking and food, factors which make food and beverage a priority for meetings include growing public awareness of the role of food choices for health and wellbeing as well as people embracing the idea of nutrition as a way of enhancing concentration and productivity.
Brain-food and menu planning
The concept of ‘brain-food’ is gaining popularity in the meetings sector. It is based on the principle that what we eat and drink affects our mental performance. ‘Brain-food’ focuses on keeping blood sugar levels stable and supplying the best nutrition for the brain, thereby improving learning ability, concentration and decision-making, as well as lowering stress levels.
This is a short guide to what foods might be served for each of the main meals of the day according to ‘brain food’ principles.
Breakfast: Choose complex carbohydrates, low fat, low glycaemic-index (GI) foods, several protein choices, and ‘healthy’ sugars such as fruit jams and juices which are ideal for ensuring that participants are well set up for the day. Low GI foods are digested slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar levels and energy rather than a ‘spike’ followed by a ‘crash’. Try avocado and scrambled eggs, wholegrain bakery items or oatmeal cereal, fruit and yoghurt as balanced options. Limit white flours and sugars at breakfast because they have a negative effect on glucose levels.
Lunch: The ‘sugar crash’ which can follow the midday meal is often linked to an overly heavy hand with the wrong kind of carbohydrate. For greater alertness and clarity of thinking, offer a low carbohydrate/high protein option, for example with chicken, fish, vegetables, and fruit. Or to counter an exceptionally stressful meeting, complex carbohydrates such as whole grain pasta and brown rice can soothe the brain while maintaining energy levels. Try to include several leafy green vegetables such as spinach or kale – they are high in iron which, if lacking, has been linked to fatigue, poor mood, and foggy thinking.
Breaks: These are important for maintaining blood sugar levels. Options should be low-GI, with complex carbohydrates, fruit, and some protein such as cheese or nuts. In the afternoon, fruit and protein can help avoid mental fatigue. Low-fat milk is best with hot beverages, and fruit teas can help maintain hydration.
Dinnertime: This is when comfort foods that relax the brain should be offered. Red meat or turkey roasts, casseroles with pulses and green vegetables, and desserts including bananas and dark chocolate are good options. Dark chocolate has been to shown to provide positive antioxidants and is a better choice than milk or white.
We come now to the ‘super-foods’, believed to offer exceptional brain-boosting benefits. Here are some examples of those suitable for inclusion in a meetings menu.
Blueberries: These contain natural compounds called flavinoids which protect the brain from the damaging effects of oxidation and inflammation to the brain and have been shown to help preserve memory. Like other berries, they have a high water content and also help with hydration. Serve fresh, or in a granola mix.
Oily fish: Salmon has long been touted as a ‘brain-food’, but sardines contain just as much heart-healthy fat as salmon and omega-3 fatty acids that supercharge communication between brain cells and contribute to the maintenance of neurotransmitters which are key to mental focus. Plus they are far more affordable than salmon, a good source of high-quality protein, and are not subject to overfishing and therefore a sustainable choice.
Walnuts: Scientists at Tufts University in Boston, USA, found that walnuts may improve mental performance. It is believed that a reaction between the specific type of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids in this nut might be responsible for boosting brain power. Serve at breaks in bowls.
Eggs: Egg yolks are a leading source of a substance which generates a neurotransmitter involved in boosting memory, and, according to Swiss researchers, eating protein-rich foods like eggs can improve overall cognitive performance,. Serve with low-fat mayonnaise for a healthier option.
Beetroot: Scientists have determined that natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance. Serve as a side dish or in a salad.
Pulses: With loads of fibre, vitamins, minerals and protein, they are an excellent ‘healthy’ carbohydrate choice and include lentils, kidney beans, black beans, and peas. Inexpensive, pulses provide a steady, slow release of glucose to your brain.
Don’t forget liquid. Participants must be kept well hydrated to maximise their performance and natural fruit or vegetable options provide ‘good’ sugars. Or ask for tap water in jugs with slices of lemon and ice rather than bottled to reduce costs without compromising presentation. Research suggests that the typical adult loses two and a half litres of water each day, and that even mild dehydration adversely affects both mental and physical performance: just two per cent dehydration can cause a 20 per cent reduction in performance in physical and cognitive activities. Air conditioning or central heating can affect how much a person needs to drink, so ensure that water is constantly available.
Special diets, intolerances and allergies must be identified and catered for. At their most serious, food allergies can cause anaphylactic shock and are life-threatening, but intolerances can also bring on nasty symptoms including headaches, rashes and stomach problems. It is important to identify any issues in advance and take them into account when planning the menu.
To sum up, eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and is important that participants are provided with balanced yet tasty options. Menu planning can be daunting, but with the right information (Zibrant works with an expert dietician to ensure that clients receive the best nutritional advice), care and preparation, this aspect of meeting planning can have an enormously positive impact on event success, helping to ensure that it is talked about for all the right reasons.