Pick the Right Food for Every Task

Eating the wrong food at the wrong time can hurt how you function. Here's how to fuel up for a successful day

By Sharon Feiereisen and Gagan Dhillon  

People are not cars, as you've probably noticed. We run on fuel, and some varieties are better suited for certain jobs than others. Load up on the right stuff, and you can turbocharge your creativity, memory, energy and more. We presented nutrition experts with various situations and asked what they'd eat to best prepare for each challenge.



WHAT TO HAVE: Tea with a little bit of milk

WHY: "Green, black and oolong tea contain the amino acid L-theanine, which passes the blood-brain barrier to bring on mental calmness and ease anxiety while creating alertness, making it the perfect tonic before an important meeting," say Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, nutritionists and authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. "Additionally, the little boost of caffeine in the tea will give a mental edge without being enough to cause anxiety. The calcium in the milk will help to relax the muscles as well."



WHAT TO HAVE: Water with ginger, lemon and fennel seeds; coconut water; yogurt with strawberries; banana

WHY: "Dehydration makes fatigue even worse, so starting your day with water will counter that," says Lovneet Batra, Delhi-based nutritionist. You'll need to stay hydrated, especially if you were powering through work with coffee or tea. "If you ordered food, chances are that it would have been high in fat and salt. In that case, ginger, lemon and fennel will keep bloating away. Yogurt and fruit will soothe your digestive system and keep you energized," she says.



WHAT TO HAVE: Small, frequent meals; roasted black chana; egg whites; buttermilk; fruits; nuts

WHY: A large meal can really make you sluggish. Moreover, you may not even have the time to sit down for a proper meal. "Putting off eating for too long could also cause your blood sugar to drop, leading to a slump in energy. Snacking as you strike off items from your to-do list will keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable," says Batra. The trick is to choose snacks that provide quick but sustained energy.



WHAT TO HAVE: Pistachios

WHY: Curb the urge to overdo it at family meals by snacking earlier on pistachios, which have protein and fibre, the winning combination for staving off hunger. "When you get to the meal, the edge will be taken off, so you won't feel the need to dive into every dish that comes your way," say Shames and Lakatos. And the satisfying crunch of the nuts can ease the stress you feel when Grandma asks for the umpteenth time why you aren't married yet. No need to fret about overdoing it on the pistachios. The leftover shells provide a visual cue of how much you've eaten, which, according to research, can help you curb your intake--an idea well known in nutrition circles as the Pistachio Principle.



WHAT TO HAVE: Flaxseeds

WHY: Flaxseeds are very good for increasing focus and memory. Sprinkle them generously to oat-meal, yogurt, smoothies and protein shakes. Flaxseeds are high in fibre and omega-3s, which help improve concentration by keeping your blood sugar levels stable. Be sure to grind the flaxseeds so that the fibre is easily digested and therefore more effective at reducing blood sugar levels.



WHAT TO HAVE: Veggies with hummus; sprouts; chickpea salad

WHY: "The carbohydrates in pulses--chickpeas, dried peas, beans and lentils--quickly ramp up your body's feel-good chemical, serotonin, a neurotransmitter that combats pain, reduces appetite and induces calm-ness--perfect before mingling!" say Shames and Lakatos. "The fibre and protein in pulses promote gradual digestion, leading to both long-lasting energy and an ongoing mood boost."