INSIGHTS

How to Enhance the Built Environment to Promote Optimum Nutrition

The kitchen in Ori House.

 

 

“With its uncompromising role in human health, optimum nutrition needs to be something that is fortified in the buildings we design. The WELL Building Standard™ Nourishment concept encourages healthy food and drink choices, quality ingredients, adherence to special dietary requirements and more, but how do we go about putting these recommendations into practice when constructing our spaces?”

Optimum nutrition is key to promoting better health, but have you considered how you can facilitate this through the design of your environment? Creating a functional kitchen and providing fresh ingredients is a start, but there are several other factors to consider beyond standard practice in order to noticeably increase the health and well-being of occupants.

 

Nourishment directly dictates our health, and yet a recent study shows consumption of healthy foods around the globe is sub-optimal. Chronic disease is also the main cause of death worldwide, for which poor diet is understood to be a major risk factor. At the same time, while most people are not even managing to consume 5-a-day, this recommended intake is based on a minimum requirement to prevent disease in a healthy individual. If we are in pursuit of optimum health, we should actually be consuming around 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day.

 

With its uncompromising role in human health, optimum nutrition needs to be something that is fortified in the buildings we design. The WELL Building Standard™ Nourishment concept encourages healthy food and drink choices, quality ingredients, adherence to special dietary requirements and more, but how do we go about putting these recommendations into practice when constructing our spaces?

 

Food Preparation

Our relationship with food is guided by metabolic and sensory signals in the body as well as learned behaviour. The sensory signals contribute to what is known as the ‘cephalic’ phase of digestion which involves the thought, sight, touch and smell of food before it enters the mouth. The more these senses are stimulated, i.e. through cooking meals from scratch, the better prepared the body will be for absorption of nutrients. Additionally, taking time to prepare food ahead of dining has been shown to bring about the feeling of satiety sooner, which decreases the likelihood of over-indulgence. In light of this, one of the primary approaches to improving nourishment in a building is to provide sufficient space and amenities for the preparation of meals including an appropriately-sized refridgerator, enough surface space, dry storage, and a means of cooking or (at least) heating food to encourage cooking from scratch.

 

Mindful Eating

Much in the same vein as taking the time to prepare our food, it is paramount that we are able to eat and enjoy our meals mindfully. In order to digest food effectively, the body’s autonomic nervous system needs to shift out of ‘fight or flight’ mode into ‘rest and digest’. Mindful eating involves paying attention to our food as well as chewing it thoroughly to support this physiological process. Exposure to environmental stressors during a meal are more likely to inhibit the digestive process and encourage over-consumption. On a practical level, this means designing quiet, well-lit eating areas located away from work spaces and screens to encourage the feeling of presence and a sense of calm. Additionally, if these areas include communal tables, then this will help to encourage social dining experiences which are also considered to be beneficial for mental well-being.

 

Portion Sizes

Not only is portion size directly linked to calorie control, it also helps to reduce food wastage. As the size of our plate heavily dictates the amount we put on it, the careful selection of tableware is a simple and understated way of assisting in portion control. Additionally, a visual guide for the suggested distribution of macronutrients on a nutritionally balanced plate would be a useful tool to display.

 

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Out of our optimum 10-a-day, 7-8 of these should be vegetables due to the higher natural sugar content in fruit. While many commercial buildings offer fruit for their employees, providing vegetables is equally, if not more important. To go above and beyond this, incorporating a vegetable garden into your building’s design would enable occupants to grow their own. This would be an environmentally responsible solution encouraging eating and physical activity, not to mention the fact that gardening is considered to have direct mental health benefits.

 

Food Access

Supporting healthy food access is a key recommendation of the WELL Building Standard™ Nourishment concept. This is a factor to be considered when choosing a location for your site as it will significantly impact the dietary behaviour of the occupants. If food is available on site in the form of a canteen or cafe, choosing to source ingredients from a local organic farm supplier would be a way to support people and the planet as much as possible. It will not only encourage good quality food consumption, it will promote sustainable, seasonal and organic eating which is considered to be the most nutritionally dense and protective of local biodiversity.

 

These are just a handful of the ways in which the design of our environments can support the way we nourish ourselves. They are relatively simple recommendations, but they could have a sizable impact on optimising health and well-being. The full list of Nourishment features from the WELL Building Standard™ can be found here. To discuss how these can be implemented within your building project, please get in touch.

 

 

 

Written by Jade Leighton
Health and Well-being Consultant at Ekkist and Registered Nutritionist