Mental health in the workplace: the nutritional approach

Angela Steel from SuperWellness spoke to us about healthy eating in the workplace:

This Can Happen’s purpose to make prevention a top priority for businesses makes it a very exciting partnership for us. This philosophy of prevention is at the heart of our approach too. We’ve made it our mission to help make workplaces nutrition-smart, because nutrition plays such a key role in preventing both physical and mental health problems.

The extent to which nutrition can make a difference is often overlooked within in the corporate world, and yet employers have a huge opportunity to make a difference.

You only have to look at the statistics to spot a clear ‘Nutrition Gap’: the fact that poor diet is likely to impact productivity by as much as 66% (according to research by Brigham Young University). Yet 75% of adults are not achieving their ‘Five a Day’.

This gaps affects workplaces across the UK, and if you think about it, it’s easy to see how: convenience or comfort food become appealing when time is tight and energy is low. Not to mention the challenges of business travel, eating at the desk (as the majority of employees we’ve surveyed do) and the common office pitfalls of doughnuts and birthday cake.

What about mental health?

Nutrition’s influence on mental health is becoming better known and more widely accepted. Most of us will have experienced how certain foods affect our mood. Feeling ‘hangry’ if we’ve left it a bit long till lunch, or conversely, feeling light and happy when our diet is on track and filled with nutritious foods in healthy amounts.

Scientifically, there is a growing body of research now supporting the link between dietary patterns and the risk of anxiety and depression. Some of the newest and most fascinating areas of research into nutrition for mental wellbeing include:

  • The gut-brain connection, with groundbreaking research into how the bacteria in our digestive tract activate neural pathways which influence anxiety levels, perception of stress and mental outlook
  • The nutrients which are essential for good brain function, in which many people’s diets are deficient: magnesium (green leafy veg), zinc (eggs, legumes), B vitamins (a wide variety of whole foods) and D3 (mainly sunlight)
  • Discoveries in the role of certain antioxidants in neuroplasticity – in other words the growth of new neurons and damage repair by polyphenols for example (plants are abundant sources as is dark chocolate – good news!)

On a practical level nutrition offers a fresh perspective on mental wellbeing in the workplace – a scientific, practical understanding, which people can start implementing straight away. Simply replacing a daily food habit with a healthier alternative (think a nutritious snack to prevent the 11am trip to the vending machine) can set someone on a positive cycle very quickly. Improved energy and mood can in turn make exercise or mindfulness practice feel more within their reach.

Food is a universal topic which engages most people – let’s face it, most of us love to eat and to talk about it! We’ve observed first hand how nutrition programmes can foster stronger social bonds between employees.

For all of these reasons, the solutions-led talks and discussions encouraged by This Can Happen resonate with us. There’s no reason why the topic of mental health shouldn’t be uplifting when tackled with thought provoking ideas and new solutions.

About SuperWellness

SuperWellness is the leading provider in corporate nutrition-centred wellbeing in the UK.

We work with a broad range of clients including VitalityHealth, P&O Ferries, AMCOGiffen, Eaton Aerospace, Harrods and The London Stock Exchange.

SuperWellness  CEO Angela Steel, founded the company in 2011, having retrained in nutrition after spending 15 years in senior leadership in the IT industry. After experiencing the impact of nutrition on her own health, she developed a strong purpose to help more people benefit from it in the corporate world.

Our core programme, the SuperWellness Challenge has been proven across diverse sectors including finance, media, hospitality, transport and construction, achieving high levels of participant engagement. The programme is among the first in the UK to deliver an independently validated ROI, through a reduction in sickness absence costs.

About the author

Zoe Sinclair is the founder of Employees Matter, the largest provider of employee engagement seminars and webinars in the UK.

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