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Our culinary team at Chowbotics is headed by two ex-Google team members: Kelly Olazar, the Google X Chef, and Charlie Ayers, who set up the food program at Google. We often talk with people responsible for food programs in companies across Silicon Valley. During those conversations, I’ve found it remarkable how many of them worked at Google early on in their careers! Ex-Google chefs now play a key role in food programs at Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Twitter, Dropbox, Pixar, Seagate, Netflix, Palantir, Intuit, Gap, Uber and so many other places. It reminds me of how Fairchild Semiconductor shaped Silicon Valley 50 years back by spinning off iconic companies like Intel, AMD, National Semiconductor, Intersil and others (see picture below).

Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization shows employees who eat healthy throughout the day are 25% more likely to perform at a high level. Furthermore, employees who consumed five or more servings of vegetables and fruits, a minimum of four times every week, were 20% more likely to be more productive. While this correlation between food and productivity is better understood now compared to 20 years back when Charlie Ayers started Google’s food program, it defined Google’s food program then. And I’m seeing it is defining food programs all over Silicon Valley now, thanks to Google chefs who moved to other companies.

Let me share some food ideas to boost work productivity. You’ll likely see these in an ex-Google chef’s food program.

Glycemic Index driven Food Choices

Most of what we eat will be broken down to one thing: Glucose. Glucose is our fuel, keeping our brains awake and alert. The brain works best with 25 grams of glucose circulating in our blood stream – about the amount found in a banana. Now, you can eat a donut to get the 25 grams of glucose. Or you can eat a small bowl of oats. There is virtually no difference in the very short term for your brain activity. Over the stretch of a normal 8 hour day however, the differences are spectacular. After eating the donut, we will release glucose into our blood very quickly. We will have about 20 minutes of alertness. Then our glucose level will drop rapidly, leaving you unfocused and easy to distract. The oats on the other hand will release their sugar as glucose much slower. This means we will have a steady glucose level, better focus and attention levels. Another important factor are your Leptin levels. Leptin will signal to your brain how full you are. A donut reduces Leptin levels after about 20 minutes, signaling the body to eat more. While oats keep you full for a longer time.

What we are also measuring here as the difference between a donut and a bowl of oats is called your “glycemic index”, coined by the Franklin Institute:

“Foods with a low glycemic index number gradually release glucose into your bloodstream. This gradual release helps minimize blood sugar swings and optimizes brainpower and mental focus”

To boost your work productivity, well-run food programs prefer menus with lower glycemic index values. The picture below shows some examples.  No surprise – salads rank pretty well on glycemic index.


Superfood Obsessed Menus

Superfoods are those which have health and productivity benefits for consumers. You can categorize them as I’ve shown below.

Omega-3 fatty acid providing superfoods

Why its good: An eight-week study involving 28 patients with major depression found that those taking omega-3s in addition to usual treatment had significantly decreased depression scores compared to those taking placebo and the usual treatment. It is also well known that higher omega 3 fatty acids in our bodies improve mood and memory. Given that brain tissue is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this link between omega-3 fatty acids and brain health is hardly surprising. These essential fatty acids are required for proper growth, development, and function of brain tissue. [link to learn more]

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids: Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, herring, kipper and pilchards. Almonds, walnuts  are great too. Egg yolk. Leafy greens.

Antioxidant providing superfoods

As your brain ages, it is more difficult for important nerve cells to protect themselves against highly reactive, rogue compounds called free radicals. Every cell in your body manufactures thousands of these unstable oxygen molecules every day, and you are also exposed to them in the world around you through tobacco smoke, pollution, and even ultraviolet radiation. Left unchecked, free radicals damage cells (a process called oxidative stress), which contributes to age-related degenerative diseases, including mental decline.

Fortunately, the body has a natural defense system to protect itself against oxidative stress: antioxidants. Antioxidants allow blood to flow easier to your brain too. There are two antioxidants that appear particularly promising when it comes to brain health: flavonoids and vitamin E. In 2012, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that older women who ate large amounts of berries – which are high in flavonoids – delayed their memory decline by more than two years compared to women who had low flavonoid consumption. Vitamin E is well known as a free-radical fighter that prevents cell damage. While more evidence is needed, several studies have found that vitamin E delays the progression of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Sources of antioxidants: Berries, leafy greens, dark chocolate, nuts such as almonds, pecans, peanuts.

Caffeine providing superfoods

Its common knowledge that caffeine boosts productivity, so I won’t go into it here.

Sources of caffeine: Green tea, dark chocolate, coffee, other types of tea.

Circulation enhancing superfoods

With better blood flow to the brain, the brain works better and work productivity increases. Besides exercise, several types of vitamins, such as Vitamin E, Vitamin K and Niacin (a vitamin B) improve blood circulation [link]

Sources of circulation enhancing superfoods: Green leafy vegetables, avocado, beets, celery, peanuts, …

Food location

Locating foods well is key in a good food program. Healthy foods are displayed front and center, while bad foods are made hard to access. Since bad sugar levels a while after lunch lower productivity, we have seen a prevalence of break rooms or microkitchens in Google and other food programs run by ex-Google chefs. Food placed in break rooms include superfoods and foods which have a low glycemic index. With Sally the Salad Robot, we make sure she is stocked with low glycemic index superfoods too, since we want to address this break room market.

Water, which is key to keeping circulation good and energizing the brain, is placed in break rooms for easy access too. One study showed a 12% decrease in productivity from a dehydrated group compared to a group properly hydrated.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these food options which boost work productivity. This, I believe, is the legacy of Google’s food program.