You know how important eating well is for your body. But did you know how important it is for your mind? A healthy diet will not only help you control your weight and lower your cholesterol, it can also improve your concentration, alertness, problem-solving skills, and productivity.

What’s the link between proper nutrition and increased productivity? One way to see it is in the numbers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one-third of American adults are obese. Increasing obesity rates lead to greater incidences of diabetes and heart disease, as well as increased costs in the workplace due to decreased productivity.

Yet the link between poor nutrition and productivity extends beyond obesity. Learn about all of the ways nutrition can affect productivity, and learn how you can improve both aspects of your life.

Chances are you’ve heard the old adage “you are what you eat.” The idea is that everything you eat affects the way your body functions and how it performs. When you eat healthfully, your body processes the nutrients and maximizes them for optimal energy. Poor nutrition — often in the form of empty calories — doesn’t give you the energy that you need. Productivity and overall well-being suffer as a result of poor nutrition.

Another way to understand the link is to examine how poor nutrition affects your workday. Poor dietary habits can lead to:

  • fatigue
  • decreased mental effectiveness
  • irritability
  • lower energy levels
  • reduced ability to think clearly
  • decreased ability to perform your job effectively
  • higher levels of stress and depression
  • decreased productivity

The CDC findings on obesity rates are strongly linked to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle in the United States. Another cause of obesity is poor nutrition, thanks in part to the excessive amounts of empty calories found in high-carb, high-fat processed foods.

What does poor nutrition’s link to obesity have to do with productivity? Research has shown that people who are obese are more likely to experience insomnia, as well as sleep apnea. Both of these can cause daytime fatigue, which inherently zaps your energy and productivity levels.

Indeed, obesity carries the risk of numerous health consequences. Fatigue is just one side effect of obesity that can lead to poorer food choices and decreased productivity. Improving nutrition can help you beat this cycle.

Energy levels aren’t the only way your brain is affected by poor nutrition. You may find that you experience mild irritability when you eat processed foods. Over time, poor nutrition can increase your risk of depression and anxiety. If you already struggle with a mental health disorder, then you may experience worsening symptoms when you don’t eat well. Anxiety and depression can make it difficult to concentrate at work. In severe cases, it can make it difficult to even get out of bed in the morning.

Nutrition doesn’t only affect your mood and energy levels. It also impacts your creativity. Knowing this might be especially helpful if you work or study in a creative environment, where you are constantly expected to tap into this energy.

People often associate nutrition with weight maintenance, but eating well is just as important for nourishing the brain. Consider increasing your intake of the following nutrients to improve brain health and overall productivity levels:

  • folate, found in meat, beans, and greens
  • omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and some types of eggs
  • vitamin C, found in berries, bell peppers, and citrus fruits
  • vitamin E, found in nuts and vegetable oils

Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day. One study published in the journal Sports Medicine found that dehydration could lead to poor planning skills. While a cup of coffee in the morning is generally okay, be sure to cut back on caffeine in the afternoon and evening so your brain isn’t overstimulated at bedtime.

Most people think about productivity on a personal level. But nutrition plays a much broader role in global productivity. Numerous studies have indicated that poor worker health is a leading cause of decreased productivity worldwide. While malnutrition can impact the way adults work in developing nations, obesity and related health problems can impact people in developed countries, too. According to Brown University, adults who are in better health may also be able to work longer and achieve higher incomes over their lifetimes.

How can you avoid these negative outcomes and ensure that your productivity stays high all day long? Try the following tips:

Eat a healthy breakfast

A productive workday begins before you leave home with a nutritious breakfast. You need to start your day with your body fueled, but it’s important that you use the right kind of fuel to ensure better concentration and a steady energy level throughout the morning. Don’t fall back on a grab-and-go donut, which will hurt more than help. Instead, stick with the following food groups:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Fresh produce is best, but you can also try the frozen variety. You can also have fruit and vegetable juice or smoothies. Just make sure that the label says “100 percent juice.”
  • Whole grains: These can be found in certain hot or cold cereals, crackers, rolls, or bagels. You can also try low-fat bran muffins or Melba toast.
  • Low-fat protein: Good examples for breakfast include hardboiled eggs, peanut butter, lean meat, and plant proteins like nuts, hemp seeds, or tofu.
  • Low-fat dairy: Try skim milk, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese.

Don’t skip meals

When you’re busy at work, it’s easy to skip meals in an effort to squeeze out more productivity. Don’t do it! Skipping meals will hurt you later in the day by lowering your energy and productivity. Without a regular supply of nutritious foods throughout the day, your body will not get the vitamins, minerals, and protein that it needs.

You may think that skipping meals will help with your waistline, but it won’t. Your body tends to compensate for the missing meals, leading to muscles going down and fat going up.

Pack your lunch and plan ahead

To avoid the temptations of skipping meals, hitting the vending machine, or joining coworkers for unhealthy fast food, pack your lunch to ensure that you have the types of food you need. Sandwiches on whole grain breads, pitas, or wraps are a good choice, particularly when paired with spreads like hummus and fillings like tuna, sliced eggs, or lean meats like turkey or chicken. Salads pack well too if the dressing is kept separate or away from the leafy greens. Bring small containers of chopped veggies, almonds, granola bars, bananas, and apples for additional snacks during the day to keep your brain and body humming.

The choices you make at lunchtime can impact your productivity for the rest of the day. For example, choosing a high-fat, fast-food meal offers empty calories and can cause your blood glucose to skyrocket and crash. You’re more likely to experience an afternoon slump on days you get fast food versus days you pack your own nutritious lunch.

It also pays to plan ahead. Don’t decide on lunch when you go on break, and don’t select snacks in your company breakroom. Planning all meals and snacks ahead of time will provide sustained energy to get you through the day, all while helping you resist the temptation of grabbing quick processed foods.

Make nutrition a workplace priority

Talk to your coworkers and bosses about ways you can create a more nutritionally savvy workplace. Collectively, think of interesting ways to bring nutritious foods into the workplace. This could improve morale, well-being, and productivity. According to Perspectives in Public Health, workplace nutrition initiatives are estimated to increase productivity by at least 2 percent.

Eating well has many lifelong benefits. If you don’t already eat healthfully, try making a few changes at a time. It’s unreasonable to expect a full-fledged change in eating habits overnight. Plus, making a big, sudden change in your lifestyle will decrease the likelihood that you’ll stick with it.

Gradual nutrition changes are the key to long-term success. However, you will likely notice even the smallest changes when it comes to your productivity levels.