If you spend half of your waking hours in the office, odds are that you eat lunch and maybe even breakfast there too. You may work late once in a while and order in a meal or two. And then there’s Happy Hour Friday in the office, vending-machine sodas and snacks and free treats delivered regularly to the staff kitchen. If this sounds like your workplace, there’s a good chance that it’s a struggle to eat healthy food at work.
Free food at work is costing your health
Unsurprisingly, you’re not alone. Research conducted by the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018 studied more than 5,000 employees in the US. They looked at food bought from workplace vending machines and cafeterias and free food or “workplace perks” in common spaces.
According to them, ‘this is the first national study to look at the food people get at work,’ which is rather surprising. What they found is that the foods employees get from work aren’t aligned with dietary guidelines for Americans.
Nearly a quarter of the participants ate food from work at least once a week. This food alone averaged almost 1,300 weekly calories and tended to be high in empty calories. More than 70 percent of the calories were from food that was given away for free.
Those free office doughnuts, beers, chips, sodas, nuts, cookies, cakes, fruit juices, power bars and chocolates actually come at a great cost to your health and wellness.
How to eat healthy food at work
Based on the standard 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, US Dietary Guidelines say that people should consume 2.5 cups of vegetables a day, 2 cups of fruit, 6 ounces of grain, 3 cups of dairy and 5.5 ounces of protein. Adding almost an extra day’s worth of empty calories every week is the first thing that has to go to eat healthier. There’s nothing wrong with free food, but only if it’s good for you.
Start your workday with a balanced breakfast
According to registered dietitian and Director of Health and Wellness at the International Food Information Council Sarah Romotsky, “Breakfast kickstarts your metabolism and provides necessary fuel and nutrients. Skipping breakfast is the fastest way to lose focus, energy, and patience in that long mid-morning meeting. Look for quick and easy meals that contain at least 25 grams of protein to keep you feeling full and satisfied.”
Try sauteeing greens with garlic and add a soft boiled egg. Find a great homemade granola recipe with not too much sugar or salt and sprinkle it on top of plain yogurt and fresh fruit. Or, find a good, whole wheat bread, toast it and add some natural peanut butter and bananas on top.
Follow the Mediterranean diet for meals
In a previous post, we wrote on The tips and tricks to following the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet tends to be low in sugar and processed foods, it helps with sustainable weight loss, is better for your heart health, reduces the risk of inflammation, helps fight cancer with omega fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants, among many other benefits.
The Mediterranean diet, in a nutshell, requires you to eat:
- Mostly plants all day, such as organic fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds
- Healthy fats and oils, such as avocado and olive oil, rather than butter
- Whole grains (not processed, refined or with additives and sugar)
- Flavoured with fresh and dried herbs and spices, rather than salt
- Fish and seafood for protein and its healthy omega fatty acids
- Limited in poultry, dairy and eggs and even more so for red meat (always choose sustainable, organic and environmentally-friendly protein)
- Slowly and make it a social, mindful activity
Plus, you should do some kind of exercise and movement daily.
Eat healthy snacks at work
If you’re feeling snacky at work, first try having a huge glass of water—often times your body is just thirsty. If that doesn’t do the trick, go for only the healthiest snacks (and no, this doesn’t include “healthy” but sweet granola bars covered in something mildly resembling yogurt).
Again, we wrote a blog post on 7 healthy office snack delivery ideas if your work tends to be one of those companies that offer free food. Consider humbly sending them a hint that you would love to have fresh fruit instead of made-from-concentrate fruit drinks. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a Happy Hour Fridays that comes with snacks, suggest air-popped popcorn without too much salt or butter.
After all, a medium bucket of theatre popcorn contains a whopping 1,200 calories and enough saturated fat to last you three days—and that’s without the butter.