Working life is becoming ever more hectic and demanding. New information becomes available all the time, and leisure time and work become intertwined. This hectic life rhythm exposes us to becoming overloaded and adopting unhealthy lifestyles, which means that our cognitive performance may suffer. This also decreases the efficiency of our work and makes it more difficult to cope with work and recover from it.
Metabolism, in particular our blood sugar levels, have a notable effect on energy levels and cognitive performance. Sufficient sleep, efficient recovery and stress management skills, regular exercise and a diet that contains plenty of vegetables, beneficial fats and wholegrain products are proven to improve cognitive performance and help you feel well every day.
Fazer, Nightingale Health, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Nokia carried out a nutritional study, BraVe (Brainfood InterVention), which reviewed the effects a diet optimised for healthy brain has on metabolism, physiology and cognitive performance.
The BraVe study was implemented at the Nokia Campus in Karaportti, Espoo, during autumn 2017 and spring 2018. A total of 84 Nokia employees from several different cultures and nationalities, and aged between 18 and 65 years took part in the study. The people selected for the study had elevated LDL cholesterol levels.
Lunches, measurements and notes
The BraVe research started with a week-long introductory period, followed by a four week control period and four week intervention period. The research subjects received a lunch according to the research diet in the staff restaurant, and Fazer provided them with breakfast and snack products.
During the control period, the participants received meals that are typical to a western diet. After this, they had a four-week intervention period, during which they ate a research diet consisting of brain-friendly Fazer Brainhow meal options. Fazer Brainhow meals pay special attention to the quality of fats and carbohydrates as well as the amount of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to the brain. In the beginning of the intervention period, the participants were also given nutritional guidance for adopting brain-friendly dietary changes.
The effects of the diet were evaluated by monitoring the changes in "bad" LDL cholesterol during the different diet periods. Additionally, blood samples were examined with Nightingale Health's unique measuring method, which monitors the different metabolic variables reflecting the health of the cardiovascular system, fluid balance and body's inflammatory conditions, such as sugar and cholesterol values, lipoproteins, fat and amino acid content, creatinine and chronic inflammation marker GlycA (glycoprotein acetylation).
Additionally, the research subjects took part in the tests and questionnaires by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, which measured their cognitive performance, reviewing, for example, the flexibility of cognitive work, learning, attentiveness and work memory. Nokia’s non-commercial intelligent chest strap for simultaneous, multiparametric physiological and continuous monitoring was used to collect information about everyday activity, stress, sleep and recovery. The research subjects also wrote food diaries, which were used to review their food and nutrient intake.
Brainfood was interesting and inspiring
For the duration of the research, a research clinic was set up in the Nokia Campus for guiding the participants, making the tests and collecting the samples. The nurses and nutrition specialists who worked at the clinic said that it was easy and inspiring to work with the participants, as they were so motivated, followed the instructions diligently and came in for measurements and tests as agreed.
The clinic personnel's high professional competence, successful division of work and their comprehensive preparation for implementing the research protocol also made the entire research project go smoothly. The practices according to the protocol were carefully explained to the participants, and the aim was to make following them as easy as possible. Sudden scheduling changes created some challenges to the clinic's operations, but these situations were solved with the help of the quick reactions and flexibility of both the research subjects and the clinic staff.
Based on the feedback received from the participants, participation in the research was an interesting, positive experience. The participants were especially interested in the feedback concerning their own health and the research diet's effects on their health.
The participants did not enjoy the typical western diet they had during the four-week control, and they stated that the brainfood diet and nutritional guidance increased their energy levels. Many found the tests measuring cognition interesting and some even planned to do similar assignments on their own time after the research. Few had done anything similar before, so the participants were curious about the results.
Having a blood sample taken every second week, keeping a food diary and the portable measuring devices brought some difficulties, especially to those travelling often, but the exceptionally small number of dropped out participants (4 out of the recruited 88 research subjects) proves the strong commitment and motivation of the research subjects.
Both the employees and the research subjects felt that the BraVe clinic had a great communal spirit. Humour also played a part in the proceedings, which, in part, ensured that the research appointments were eagerly awaited by all. The research was an enriching experience for all parties and the research period ended with wistful thanks and hugs.