Today’s working life is tough on the brain. Fast-paced surroundings, constantly changing stimuli and always-on working practices that require presence and attention almost non-stop, day and night, strain the brain. Companies and workplaces are continuously looking for ways to ease the strain, and to improve the well-being of office workers.
Now we have also looked for solutions from food: Fazer, Nokia, Nightingale Health and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health investigated the impacts of a brain-friendly diet on the well-being, alertness and cognitive performance of working-age people in the BraVe (Brainfood InterVention) study.
“We are actively looking for sustainable and meaningful solutions to contemporary challenges. This new study enables us to develop new products and services that help people maintain their well-being and everyday performance,” explains Päivi Juolahti, Head of Fazer’s research and innovation unit Fazer Lab.
The eight-week intervention study compared a typical western diet with a brain-friendly diet
“The impacts of diet on the cognition of working age people have previously not been studied this extensively. Previous studies have focused primarily on children or elderly people, or the effects of individual foods or nutrients,” says Marika Laaksonen, Fazer’s Lead in Health, PhD in Nutrition.
A total of 84 office workers volunteered to participate in the BraVe study. All participants had elevated LDL cholesterol levels prior to the study. The study period lasted eight weeks, during which the impacts of two different diets on cardiovascular metabolism, physiology and cognitive performance were monitored.
For the first four weeks, the participants followed a typical western diet, where the quality of fats and carbohydrates did not follow Nordic nutritional recommendations.
For the last four weeks, the participants were served brain-friendly food, where the quality of fats and carbohydrates was carefully considered. Fazer provided them with brain-friendly lunches and snacks at the staff restaurant, and they were given ingredients for healthy breakfasts to take home. The participants also received nutritional guidance and information on the significance of meal rhythm.
The strain and recovery of the participants was monitored with a wearable device provided by Nokia, and the participants also kept a log of their own alertness. Nightingale Health conducted blood analyses that measured the participants’ metabolism, while cognitive performance was monitored with tests organized by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. In addition, the participants took cognitive tests independently on their own computers and kept a food diary.
Brain-friendly diet improved recovery/vitality and cognitive performance
The brain-friendly diet had a positive impact on cognitive performance and alertness. The participants’ food diaries were used to evaluate how well each participant followed the brain-friendly diet. Those who followed it most carefully improved their performance in neuropsychological tests measuring cognitive control and flexibility, and attention, and felt more recovered in the mornings than other participants.
The brain-friendly diet also benefited cardiovascular health: it brought beneficial changes in LDL cholesterol and decreased the levels of phospholipids and other fatty acids that are harmful to the brain.
“This study was very inspiring, both to the researchers and the participants. The participants were exceptionally committed, even though this was a fairly long study and required a lot of monitoring,” says Marika Laaksonen. The results will be used in Fazer’s product development. “Products that contain whole oats, for example, can be excellent brainfood. Oat contains iron, zinc and magnesium that are beneficial to brain well-being, as a part of a healthy lifestyle*” Laaksonen continues.
The results of the BraVe study were published to the international research community in the 13th European Nutrition Conference (FENS 2019) in Dublin in October. In Finland, the results were introduced to the media and nutrition specialists in a seminar organized by Fazer on February 13.
The BraVe study was a part of the Fazer Brainow® program that explores the impact of lifestyle choices on the well-being of the brain, and based on research, develops new products and services that promote well-being.
*Magnesium contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, and to the normal functioning of the nervous system. Iron contributes to normal cognitive function and to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Zinc contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress and to normal cognitive function.