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Encouraging employees to take a full lunch break

Many ignore this downtime, either by choosing not to eat or by eating at their desk while working

To boost productivity at work a lunch break is critical. Skipping lunch is having a significant impact on concentration and productivity and is also affecting employees' health.

Eating rich or sugar-rich foods can result in a post-meal crash, causing staff to become fatigued and feel sluggish. To keep energy levels up there are certain foods that can give a boost for the rest of the day – fruit and vegetables are particularly high in vitamins and can be a source of healthy fats.

Certain foods can not only give a sometimes much-needed boost to energy levels, but can also increase brain function. Specifically, looking into your glucose intake can aid productivity. Foods such as dark chocolate, blueberries and nuts can help with this. Your body is a machine and needs to be refuelled, and glucose is the main fuel for the brain.

Before you start dishing out sweets in the office though, glucose doesn’t mean sugar. Glucose is the byproduct that breaks down those snacks. Slow-release foods such as whole grains and lower GI foods will help sustain energy levels for longer.

While everyone should be taking a full lunch break, those with diabetes should be particularly encouraged to have breaks. They should eat regular meals and snack as necessary.

According to the government every four hours of continuous work requires a 30-minute break and this should absolutely be honoured. Neurones in the brain can become tired from being in the same place, so eating at desks is not considered a good way to replenish cognitive stock. Technically speaking our brains can only work for around 90 minutes before needing to recharge. Therefore a lunch away from the office for up to 30 minutes should be actively encouraged. You’ll find that you’ll get more from employees by promoting this.

While you can’t impose a healthy eating regime, you can promote a healthier diet while in the workplace by educating staff. While there are lots of articles in the media about healthy eating and while breakfast and dinner are seen as priorities, lunch is often forgotten.

However, by skipping lunch or not getting the right lunch you're starving your brain and muscles of the key nutrients needed to function at peak level. Glucose, hydration and antioxidants are very important to ensure optimum productivity and concentration, and low levels of any of these can cause irritability, poor concentration and thus reduced productivity.

As an employer it may be beneficial to plan ahead and provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks in your canteen. It would also be beneficial to avoid food and drinks that are high in salt and sugar.

Eating at night increases fat storage and negatively affects metabolic conditions such as diabetes. There is also evidence that a compound implicated in heart disease is higher in night workers and this increases with meat intake.

Night workers should ensure that they eat three healthy meals at regular intervals and make a conscious effort to avoid high-fat and high-protein food at night. Employers should also encourage staff who work night shifts to snack less and eat a balanced meal of lean protein and vegetables.

There is little Public Health England input on the importance of lunch breaks and little awareness among employers. There is also a culture in UK offices of ‘lunch and learn’ or lunch meetings and this can inhibit productivity, as employees are not given time to rest. A lunch break should be just that – a break!

Preethi Daniel is medical director at London Doctors Clinic