Watching the trends with Editor-at-Large Regina Baraban
Choosing healthy conference menus can be tricky. But what if you stop pushing “healthy food” and start promoting “brain food”? You can make a compelling argument for serving food that helps attendees focus, maintain energy, and learn—boosting their brain power and your meeting.
Eating specific foods to produce different physiological states is a trend that will bring huge changes to meetings, says Andrea Sullivan, president of BrainStrength Systems, which provides programs for learning and performance improvement. “For a long time, we’ve focused on what we should not eat. This shift is about focusing on what we should eat to produce desired results.”
Sullivan cites research that describes the chemical effects that various foods produce in the brain. “For example,” she says, “eggs are rich in choline, which aids healthy neurotransmission and enhances our ability to pay attention, form new memories, and make decisions.” White flour and simple sugars, however, “enter the bloodstream quickly and trigger the release of insulin, which leads to sugar highs and lows that create a neurotransmitter imbalance, causing sleepiness, inattention, and even irritability.”
Sullivan cautions that many of the brain-boosting benefits of specific foods kick in after long-term use, but she also believes that “during meetings, we can produce immediate effects from the balance of foods in each meal, and from serving certain foods. Dark chocolate has been shown to improve cognitive performance for several hours following ingestion.”
Why, then, are meeting menus typically full of sugary and high-carb foods? “Menu choices are often based on considerations such as cost and what we think people want to eat,” says Sullivan. “Cost considerations can result in meals that are high in starch and low on proteins, relaxing the brain to a state of inattention. Giving people what they want can also be a problem, because what they often want is comfort food—wonderful for de-stressing but not so great for concentration and learning.”
Try starting small. “If you minimize white flour and sugar, and lighten up lunches by balancing starches with more lean protein and vegetables,” Sullivan says, “you’ll be headed toward a meeting experience that includes energized attendees who can focus, concentrate, and learn.”