Career Advice

Surprising Foods Contributing to Your Afternoon Slump

min read
Mikaela Thompson

The simple truth is some foods just don’t play nice together. It’s all about chemical compounds merging to produce unexpected, negative effects on our body…or vice versa. Sure, some of these foods have the potential to offer great health benefits but we don’t usually eat food by itself for lunch. There is usually a coffee or juice, some dressing, bread or fries etc., on the side. Here lies the problem producing a murky mess of bloated bellies and soaring blood sugar levels, followed by an overwhelming sluggishness and mental blunting. Not a state conducive to great productivity and incisive decision-making during afternoon work sessions. 

So what specific foods and combos should we avoid during our work week lunch breaks? 

1) Fried and fast food, potatoes:  most of us are well aware these are our enemy and will usually resist the compelling urge to overindulge for a quick energy fix during a lunchtime break. But if not, here’s a reminder: their high-fat content will send you into a mind-numbing slumber, mid-afternoon. Why? Because fat is a challenge for our bodies to break down, taking more time and energy to digest, resulting in fatigue. Also, steer clear of mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders and egg rolls. French fries and soda is also a ruinous high fat, high blood sugar combo that will cast you into a groggy, irritable state.  You will have little credibility at work as that guy who nods off at his desk every afternoon!

2) White bread, rice and pasta: if it’s low in fibre and not paired with protein, it can spike blood sugar levels before a crash, like potatoes. Such processed grains do more harm than good to energy levels since the outer fibrous layers have been removed. Choose a pasta, bread and rice with more fibre, or add a protein source to any standard entrée pasta for a more sustainable effect on energy. Beware of white bread and jam which is also a disastrous combination. The high blood sugar level causes the body to work extra hard. In turn, your energy and mood will bottom out.

3) Burger and beers: tempting as this combo might be, especially as it’s often peddled as a discount combo, don’t fall for it. Both are processed by the liver, but the body will prioritize breaking down the alcohol first as a toxin, leaving fat floating around in your blood stream that will ultimately be stored in your fat tissue. You’ll tank and feel bloated long after its consumption.

4) Sugary smoothies:  these can pack in 7 tablespoons of sugar, so be wary. This extra sugar comes in the form of honey, agave, yoghurt etc., so check the contents for such culprits before you buy them.

5) Energy bars, cereals, yoghurts, and food with added sugar: many of these are candy in disguise. Low in carbs, high in protein but also high in sugar and artificial sweeteners.

6) Coffee: caffeine is well known to give us a quick zap of energy and increased brain function and yes, in moderation it can offer positive physical and mental effects. However, often in the hustle and bustle of the workday, coffee is used as a quick fix replacing proper nutrition which will reduce its effects and drain your energy over time. To avoid this, limit your daily intake to no more than 4 cups a day.

4 surprising energy sapping lunch foods, you might not know about:

1) Bananas: these contain L-tryptophan which becomes serotonin and melatonin that cause sleepiness. It’s better to pair a banana with a handful of nuts or slice it into a cup with a dollop of Greek yoghurt to avoid a blood sugar spike.

2) Cherries: again, these are high in melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’ inducing sleep. It’s better to eat these later in the day to combat afternoon fatigue early on. Skip cherry juice as well which also has enough melatonin to promote unwanted afternoon tiredness, according to a 2019 study cited in the journal, ‘Nutrients’.

3) Green salad: while a salad adorned with dressing, many of which have about a tablespoon of sugar in them, can trigger an afternoon energy dip, avoiding fat on your salad is also setting up roadblocks to the absorption of nutrients, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Low fat and fat-free dressings are not your friend in this regard. Avoid a heavy pour and opt for a splash of olive oil and vinegar. Also, take account of what might be hidden within your salad, such as, sugar-laden candied nuts and seeds etc.

4) Salmon: Most of us would think all those omega-3 fats and ‘good for you’ vitamins packed in salmon would make it an ideal catch for lunch. Think again. Yes, it’s high in protein that will keep you full longer, but it’s also loaded with vitamin B6 which triggers the body to produce melatonin - yes, that pesky sleep inducer! Don’t skip seafood altogether though, just save it for dinner.

Take outs.

Almost all foods can induce afternoon fatigue if not eaten as a balanced lunch. What you eat matters. Think about pairings that will work hard together for a sustained energy boost while avoiding those above, you now know create the opposite effect, the afternoon slump. Thoughtless, quick fixes are very likely to send you in a downward spiral for the rest of your day while additionally causing impaired thinking skills and unhealthy cravings.

On the other hand, bear in mind that the afternoon malaise is not just created by bad food choices. In fact, our natural Circadian rhythms predispose us to energy ebb and flows causing dips in the afternoon and at night. However, we can help ourselves to limit the effects of our biological clocks by making sensible choices. In addition to our food selection, remember to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water through the day. Stress, poor sleep patterns and metabolic disorders can also negatively contribute, so keep a proactive eye on these and see a doctor for medical guidance.

Check out more workplace tips here!

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