It's a Great Time of Year for Healthy Eating at Work

It's easy to make lunch healthier and brighter this time of year.

The coming summer months offer an opportunity to add colorful and delicious fresh fruits and vegetables to your plate or lunchbox. This is the perfect time for strawberries, peas in the pod, blueberries, or green peppers to make an appearance during your midday meal.

A lunch bursting with color is likely popping with nutrition. Colorful fresh fruits and vegetables are filled with fiber that makes a meal satisfying. In addition, they're naturally nutritious and low in fat, helping a person maintain a healthy weight.

The advantages of eating fresh, healthy foods last a lifetime. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, notes that eating at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Some may also protect against certain types of cancer.

A good weight-loss strategy is to substitute fruits and vegetables for higher-calorie foods. The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables help you feel full, allowing you to eat the same amount of food but consume fewer calories.

Fresh and Fabulous
In order to make sure you're getting enough fruits and vegetables into your diet, take advantage of the variety of fresh produce available during the summer months. If you're not able to plant your own garden, visit a local farmer's market for locally grown product that's at its peak of freshness and flavor. You also may be able to get fresh produce by purchasing a share in a Community Supported Agriculture program. In this type of program, customers sign up to purchase a box of in-season vegetables from a local farmer. For an up-front fee, customers get a box of fresh, locally grown vegetables delivered during the growing season.

Locally grown produce may be available at your area grocery stores or from roadside farm stands in rural areas, as well. Wherever it is purchased, all it takes is a little cleaning, chopping, and packing to have a fresh and nutritious dish on hand at lunchtime.

Nutritious Ideas
Dr. Rachel Johnson, spokesperson for the American Heart Association, suggests pairing fresh carrots, celery sticks, broccoli, or cucumber slices with low-fat yogurt or hummus dip. Another option is to add fresh strawberries or blueberries to low-fat, plain yogurt. Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, notes whole fruits and vegetables offer more nutritional benefits and are more satisfying than dietary supplements.

She advises choosing your beverages carefully. Drinks can be laden with sugar, and even fruit juices lack the fiber that helps a person feel full. "Think about what you drink," Johnson said. "Choose water over sugary drinks."

A sandwich can be made healthier by replacing some of the meat and cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, or onions. If you tend to get hungry between meals, keep an apple or a small bag of bite-size carrots handy for snacking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the number of calories in a single, snack-size bag of corn chips is equal to the number of calories in a cup of whole strawberries, plus a small apple, plus a cup of carrots with one-fourth of a cup of low-calorie dip.

The Power of Proteins and Whole Grains
Of course, as wonderful and healthy as fruits and vegetables are, a balanced diet also contains servings of lean protein (including legumes, such as beans), whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Rena Mendelson, a professor of nutrition at Ryerson University in Toronto, suggests considering your daily intake of all of the major food groups when deciding what to have for lunch. "You're not going to eat vegetables alone for lunch," she said. "Think about the food groups and what might be missing from your day. Have a mental checklist going."

Protein and fiber help a person feel satisfied longer. If you're looking for an alternative to meat, roasted nuts can do the trick. As a bonus, they don't need refrigeration and can fit into a small container.

Whole-grain crackers also can typically be stored at work, although it pays to read the label when purchasing them. "Look for a whole-grain cracker that's not high in fat," Mendelson notes. "Crackers are often a source of fat, but there are good whole-grain crackers that are really healthy."

Another source of hidden fat is salad dressing. "That's something to be careful of," she said. "Avoid excessive fats and sugars. If you're going with salad, go light on the dressing."

A Side Order of Exercise
Excess fat and sugar pack a double whammy: Not only do they contribute to weight gain, but also they can have a negative effect on the way you get through the day. "We know that sugary foods tend to make you a little bit sleepy, so you want to avoid having an excess amount of sugar," Mendelson said.

To be more alert at work, add some exercise to your day. An ideal lunch break will include time for a walk as well as a healthy, nutritious meal.

Preparing lunch at home may give you time to spend a good portion of your lunch hour taking a walk. Polishing off your lunch with some exercise can give you a fresh focus on the rest of the day.

"Use the opportunity to get away from the office to get up and be physically active," said Mendelson. "Physical activity is absolutely the key to well-being, performance, and a clear mind."

Terri Dougherty is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. (, a nationally recognized compliance resource firm that offers a diverse line of products and services to address the broad range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. She is also the editor of J. J. Keller's LivingRight Health and Wellness Awareness kit. Summertime health and healthy eating are featured in the July LivingRight kit.

Posted by Terri L. Dougherty on May 17, 2012

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