In the high-octane world of top-tier professionals, maintaining peak performance and optimal health is crucial. One often overlooked yet vital aspect of this is diet, particularly the impact of ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

These convenience foods, loaded with artificial ingredients and lacking essential nutrients, can significantly undermine your health and performance and yet they often have a prevalence in the workplace.

Throughout this article, I will highlight the insidious effects of UPFs and provide practical strategies for healthier eating at work.

Decoding Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultra-processed foods are industrial formulations packed with ingredients you’d never find in a home kitchen. More a ‘formulation’ than a food, they include artificial additives, preservatives, flavourings, and colourings, all designed to make food more convenient and tasty but at a significant health cost. Examples of UPFs include:

  • Sweet or savoury packaged snacks
  • Pre-packaged meals
  • Packaged foods
  • Commercially baked goods
  • Carbonated drinks; energy drinks
  • Margarines and spreads
  • Breakfast cereals and energy bars
  • Fruit yogurts and fruit drinks
  • Vegan ‘meat’ and ‘cheese’ alternatives

While these foods are designed for convenience and taste, they are high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and salt, and low in nutritional value. Regular consumption of UPFs has been linked to various health issues, ranging from poor focus and low energy to serious chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

The Functional Medicine Perspective

Functional medicine focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of health issues rather than merely managing symptoms. From this perspective, UPFs are a significant contributor to the chronic disease epidemic. These foods disrupt the body’s natural balance, leading to inflammation, insulin resistance, and hormonal imbalances. Understanding this connection is crucial for high-level professionals aiming to maintain their health and performance.

The Impact of Ultra-Processed Foods on High-Level Professionals

As a high-level professional, your daily demands require sustained energy, mental clarity, and overall well-being. The consumption of UPFs will undermine these essential aspects of performance:

  1. Energy Rollercoaster

UPFs often cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, leading to poor energy balance. This results in short bursts of energy followed by periods of fatigue and lethargy, decreasing productivity and focus.

  1. Mental Health Issues

Diets high in UPFs are linked to increased rates of depression and anxiety. The artificial additives and high sugar content can affect brain function, and the research suggests a connection between higher consumption of UPFs and an increased risk of mental health issues. They found people who ate more of it were 22% more likely to experience depression, and 50% more likely to have anxiety and trouble sleeping These mental strains can severely impact your decision-making and leadership abilities.

  1. Chronic Health Conditions

Regular consumption of UPFs contributes to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other chronic conditions. These health issues not only affect your quality of life but can also lead to increased absenteeism and reduced long-term productivity.

Making Healthier Choices: A Practical Guide

Addressing the issue of UPFs in your diet doesn’t have to be a chore. Here are some actionable and enjoyable strategies to help you transition to healthier eating habits and maintain peak performance:

  1. Eat Whole Foods

Fill your plate with whole, minimally processed foods. Think fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, quality animal protein, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential nutrients that support overall health and energy levels. Try a vibrant salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and grilled chicken.

  1. Meal Planning Magic

Planning your meals ahead can help you avoid the temptation of convenience foods and ensure you have healthy options readily available. Consider meal prepping on weekends or the night before to save time during busy workdays. Batch-cook a delicious chicken stir-fry or a hearty quinoa and beef salad to take to work.

  1. Snack Smarter

Ditch the vending machine snacks and opt for healthier alternatives. Keep a stash of nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, and vegetable sticks to snack on with houmous in your office or home. These snacks provide sustained energy and essential nutrients without the negative effects of UPFs.

  1. Stay Hydrated in Style

Proper hydration is crucial for maintaining energy levels and cognitive function. Aim to drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day. Infusing water with fruits or herbs can make it more enjoyable. Mint and cucumber water, anyone?

  1. Mindful Munching

Practice mindful eating by paying full attention to the experience of eating. Take time to savour each bite, recognise hunger and satiety cues, and avoid eating out of habit or stress. This can help you make more conscious food choices and reduce reliance on UPFs.

  1. Cook Up A Storm At Home

Cooking at home allows you to control the ingredients in your meals and avoid the hidden additives in many restaurants and pre-packaged foods. Experiment with simple, healthy recipes that can be prepared quickly and easily. Try a veggie-packed frittata or a comforting nourish bowl of roast veg, grains and grilled chicken. It doesn’t need to be complicated or take up all your time. Double up when making dinner so you have leftovers to take to work for lunch the next day.

  1. Label Reading 101

Become a savvy shopper by learning how to read food labels and recognise UPFs. Look for short ingredient lists with items you recognise. A good rule of thumb when reading food labels is: if you wouldn’t find the ingredient in your kitchen, don’t eat it. Avoid foods with artificial additives, excessive sugars, and unhealthy fats. Knowledge is power!

  1. Balance is Key

Ensure your diet is balanced with a variety of nutrients. Include a mix of quality protein, a variety of fresh vegetables, and healthy fats such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil or nuts and seeds in each meal to keep your energy levels stable and support overall health. Incorporate a range of colours on your plate to get a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals.

  1. Stress Less

Chronic stress can drive unhealthy eating habits, including the consumption of UPFs. Incorporate stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises into your routine. This can help you maintain a balanced diet and improve overall well-being.

  1. Move Your Body

Regular physical activity helps regulate appetite, improve mood, and reduce cravings for UPFs. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Find an activity you enjoy, whether it’s lifting weights, cycling, swimming, or a brisk walk post lunch or dinner. Find what works for you and add it into your daily routine.

Take Movement Snack Breaks:

Take a few minutes throughout the day to get up away from your desk to move your body. Here are some ways to incorporate movement snacks at work:

  • Desk Stretches: Take 5-minute breaks to stretch your arms, legs, and back.
  • Stair Climbing: Use the stairs instead of the lift. Climbing a few flights can be a quick and effective workout.
  • Walk-and-Talk Meetings: Instead of sitting in a conference room, have walking meetings.
  • Desk Exercises: Keep a resistance band at your desk for quick strength exercises.
  • Office Walks: Take a brisk walk around your office building or outside during lunch breaks.

Easy Home-Cooked Meals for Work

Healthy eating doesn’t have to stop when you leave home. Here are some easy-to-make, protein-forward meals you can prepare at home and bring to work:

  1. Grilled Chicken Salad

Combine grilled chicken breast with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and a hard-boiled egg. Add a simple olive oil and lemon dressing for a protein-packed lunch.

  1. Chicken and Avocado Wraps

Use whole grain tortillas and fill them with sliced chicken, avocado, lettuce, and a bit of mustard. Roll them up tightly and slice them into pinwheels for a fun, portable lunch.

  1. Greek Yogurt Parfait

Layer Greek yogurt with mixed berries, nuts and seeds, and a drizzle of raw honey. You can mix a good quality protein powder into the yogurt first to boost the protein content too. This provides a balanced mix of protein, carbs, and healthy fats, perfect for a quick breakfast or snack.

  1. Chicken and Veggie Stir-Fry

Sauté chicken strips with garlic and ginger and then add a variety of colourful vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, and carrots. Add a splash of soy sauce and you’re ready to go.

  1. Beef and Quinoa Bowl

Cook ground beef with your favourite seasonings and serve it over a bed of quinoa with a side of sautéed spinach and cherry tomatoes. This meal is rich in protein and easy to reheat.

The Journey to Healthier Eating

Transforming your eating habits might seem daunting, but it can also be an exciting and rewarding journey. By making small, incremental changes, you can significantly improve your health and performance. Here’s why this journey is worth every step:

  1. Boost Your Energy

A diet rich in whole foods and particularly quality protein provides sustained energy throughout the day, helping you stay alert and productive without the energy crashes associated with UPFs.

  1. Sharpen Your Mind

Whole foods support brain health, improving focus, memory, and cognitive function. This can enhance your decision-making abilities and overall performance.

  1. Enhance Your Health

Reducing the intake of UPFs lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. This translates to fewer sick days and a more robust overall health profile.

  1. Elevate Your Mood

A balanced diet can positively impact your mood and emotional well-being, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety. This can lead to improved relationships and a more positive outlook on life.

  1. Live Longer

Adopting healthier eating habits can contribute to a longer, healthier life. By reducing the risk of chronic diseases and maintaining overall well-being, you can enjoy a higher quality of life well into your later years.

Your Path to Better Health

As a high-level professional, your health and performance are intrinsically linked. The regular consumption of ultra-processed foods can undermine your efforts to maintain peak performance and overall wellbeing. By understanding the dangers of UPFs and adopting healthier eating habits, you can enhance your energy levels, mental clarity, and long-term health.

Promoting awareness of ultra-processed foods and their health implications is not just about improving your individual wellbeing; it is about fostering a culture of health that benefits your entire organisation. Through education and healthier food choices, you can create an environment where everyone thrives.

Elevate Your Routine

Imagine starting your day with sustained energy, making clear decisions, and feeling great both mentally and physically. This vision can become your reality by taking simple yet powerful steps to minimise UPFs in your diet:

  • Inspire Through Example: By choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods, you set a standard for your peers and colleagues, inspiring them to make healthier choices too.
  • Engage in Lifelong Learning: Keep exploring new, delicious recipes and nutrition tips that align with your busy lifestyle. Continuous improvement is key.
  • Create a Ripple Effect: Advocate for healthier options in workplace cafeterias, meetings, and events. Small changes can lead to significant benefits for the whole team.

Embrace the Challenge

Transforming your eating habits is not just a task—it’s an opportunity to invest in yourself. As you reduce your reliance on ultra-processed foods, you’ll likely discover new levels of vitality and productivity that propel you forward in your career and personal life.

  • Smart Meal Prep: Plan and prepare protein-rich meals like grilled chicken salads, turkey wraps, and beef and quinoa bowls. These meals are easy to make and perfect for busy workdays.
  • Stay Active: Incorporate exercise snacking throughout your day. Desk stretches, stair climbing, and walk-and-talk meetings are excellent ways to stay active without disrupting your schedule.
  • Mindful Choices: Practice reading labels and choosing foods with ingredients you recognise. If you wouldn’t find it in your kitchen, it’s best left on the shelf.

The Journey Ahead

Your path to better health doesn’t have to be daunting. With a clear understanding of the impacts of UPFs and a commitment to making healthier choices, you’re well on your way to enhancing your overall well-being. Lead the charge in creating a health-conscious workplace, and watch as your organisation reaps the rewards of a more vibrant, focused, and energetic team.

So, here’s to embracing a healthier, more balanced lifestyle—one that not only benefits you but also sets a positive example for those around you. The journey to optimal health and peak performance is within your reach. Let’s make it happen, one smart choice at a time.

Bex Prade
Bex Prade
Founder at Bexology

Bex Prade is a clinical nutritionist and functional health practitioner helping her clients overcome a myriad of health issues to achieve long-term health and wellbeing.  Bex has worked with hundreds of clients and specialises in weight loss, gut health, men’s and women’s hormone health and skin health. Bex works with clients 1-2-1 as well as offering corporate workshops and wellbeing programmes.