Food for thought: Considering the role of nutrition in mental clarity
Marriott’s new Mind Menu is bringing brain power to the M Club with nutrient-rich small bites and beverages.
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Long gone are the days when a healthy breakfast consisted of eggs, toast, bacon and fruit topped off with a glass of milk or orange juice.
“We’re witnessing the slow death of the meal institution”, Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, told The Globe and Mail. “Lunch was the first meal to go because of the work that we do. The next meal to disappear is breakfast.”
Food science studies today show that certain ingredients affect how you perform at work, how you sleep, your creative potential and your general well-being. Blueberries, for example, contain natural anthocyanin antioxidants and have been shown to improve neuronal and cognitive brain functions.
Yet the question for many high achievers is, does what we eat really impact the way we think?
Feeding the mind
The relationship between brain function and what we eat has created an avenue for humans to explore what substances are the most effective brain food.
For Marriott Hotels, health-food trends have meant an opportunity to experiment with tasty, active ingredients, culminating in what has become the Mind Menu. From Slumbershots to help guests relax to Mind Fuel Snacks to aid in digesting the day, the goal of the newly innovated Mind Menu is not (necessarily) to make guests smarter, but to uplift and inspire the brain and body during a stay at the hotel.
Scott McCoy, vice president of Global Operations at Marriott Hotels, had a hand in developing the new menu, which he sees as a way to connect with guests while developing food that is as delicious as it is healthy. “We’re looking for opportunities to create engaging moments with our guests”, McCoy explains, “The Mind Menu is a thoughtful way to do this”.
Although these menu recipes do not promise any health miracles, McCoy says, “We seek out ingredients that have properties known to assist people with energy, relaxation and mental clarity”.
The Blueberry Coconut Brain Booster shot, for example, mixes the tart, subtle sweetness of the berry with the creamy texture of the coconut. The result is a three-sip smoothie that perks the mind, awakens taste buds and gives guests enough of a snack to comfortably focus on their next, most important task.
While developing the menu, McCoy and his team consulted with nutritionists and chefs to provide something that was great for the mind and body while also fun and flavourful, using health-conscious, active ingredients. The beets in the beet hummus, for instance, are not just a colourful surprise; they are said to improve brain connectivity when combined with exercise in older adults.
As with the regular Marriott menu programme, the Mind Menu also has a focus on locally sourced ingredients, including high-quality produce, herbs and meats found in each region. At the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel, locally sourced ground turkey is on the menu for the turkey veggie meatball bites, offered as part of the Mind Menu hors d’oeuvres.
Active ingredients, all day long
The Mind Menu, which is available in the M Club, changes daily and features items with a health-forward, local element. Guests can experience the Mind Menu three times per day, beginning with the Brain Booster.
The Brain Booster, meant to be enjoyed first thing, is a small smoothie or juice with active ingredients like carrots, coconut or cantaloupe to energise your taste buds and carry you through the morning. “We really wanted to help spark conversations or creativity, perhaps inspire a thought before meetings”, says McCoy.
According to registered dietitian and nutritionist Vincci Tsui, this type of thoughtful timing matters — eating can have a varied effect on your body, depending on not only what you consume, but also when you intake a meal or drink. “Your eating habits can absolutely impact your ability to focus for the day versus winding down for the night”, she shares.
Yet many business travellers who might not have time to sit down for a meal, she says, rely too heavily on caffeine or sweet treats instead of healthy juices or snacks to get that extra boost of energy. The problem is that coffee and sugar can only get you so far.
“In most cases, glucose is the only molecule that can pass through the blood-brain barrier to provide your brain with energy”, says Tsui. “Of course, simply getting hopped up on sugar doesn’t work.” Instead, she promotes eating a balance of nutrients that can work together to allow optimal brain and body functioning.
Pound for pound, Tsui explains, our brain is the most energy-consuming organ in our body — making up about 20 percent of our body’s energy needs — which is why access to high-quality, healthy ingredients throughout the day is key.
Later in the day, Mind Menu hors d’oeuvres, such as the beet hummus and quinoa crackers or maple-almond sunflower seed clusters, are packed with ingredients to provide energy and support mental clarity levels when guests need that extra fuel most.
The last opportunity to enjoy a Mind Menu item is at the end of the day, typically around 8 or 9 pm., when guests can indulge in a Slumbershot — a non-alcoholic nightcap to help guests relax and enjoy a more restful sleep.
More than ‘good evening’
Understanding the relationship between the mind and body is important in order to maximise activity in both. For Tsui, the key to taking care of both elements while travelling is to plan ahead.
Nutrition-wise, fibre tends to be hard to come by when on the road, so Tsui recommends hunting down higher-fibre choices like whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds ahead of time to nourish throughout the day. “You can even try a fibre supplement, like psyllium”, she offers.
And, while nutritional foresight is particularly important for travellers, it’s programmes like the Mind Menu that aim to become a reliable part of that plan. The Mind Menu is currently only available in the M Club, but Marriott Hotels plans to expand the offering.
McCoy hopes the new taste concepts will not only encourage guests to fuel their bodies and minds, but also inspire them. “Instead of just a ‘hello’ or ‘good evening’, we may hand you a Slumbershot to help you digest the day”, says McCoy. “It’s our wish this gesture of kindness helps spark a moment of brilliance.”
Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel