Eating at work

Did you know that we consume at least half of our meals and snacks during work hours?

Registered dietitian, Alex Royal, says that healthy eating at work can be a challenge, as there are often too many temptations – like the vending machine, the sweets trolley and food shops on your route to and from work.

“During a busy day we don’t have time (or forget) to prepare healthy meals or even forget to eat. So blood glucose levels drop, resulting in an energy dip and potentially cravings, especially for highly-processed and fatty, sugary foods. This fuels the cycle of unhealthy eating at work”, says Royal.

When lunch goes bad

Unhealthy workplace eating plays a role in South Africa’s growing obesity problem. The prevalence of overweight and obesity combined is now 65% for females and 31% for males. This is according to the 2012 South African Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES).

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The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) has partnered with National Nutrition Week since the late 1990s to highlight important nutrition messages.

“In line with our continued efforts to support South Africans in living healthier lifestyles and to promote dietitians as the go-to experts for nutrition advice, the issues around healthy eating in the workplace are close to our hearts and something our dietitians deal with on a daily basis”, says ADSA President, Maryke Gallagher.

What can you do?

Cath Day, registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, also offers some tips for employees:

  • Before grabbing a snack, first ask yourself if you are hungry or if you are rather thirsty or need to take a break. Having a big glass of water, going for a short walk or getting some fresh air may be all you need.
  • Don’t skip meals or healthy snacking between meals. Skipping meals and healthy snacks results in dips in blood glucose (sugar) levels. This will make you more likely to crave unhealthy foods.

The work lunch box

We often talk about school lunch boxes, but what about work lunch boxes?

According to registered dietitian Kelly Schreuder, the goals of a healthy work lunch box include:

  • Variety and balance of foods
  • Variety of nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, fat and micronutrients
  • Real food, as opposed to processed snacks that are high in added fat (especially poor-quality fat), sugar and salt
  • Portion control

And what about fluids – what should we be drinking while we are at work?

“The simple answer is that water should be the main beverage we are drinking while working, but there are many other healthy options to choose from as well. People often forget that beverages can contain a large amount of energy (and many beverages contain too much sugar such as sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice, and animal fat from milk) so we need to be more mindful about what we are drinking”, say ADSA spokesperson Catherine Pereira.

How foods affect moods

What we eat affects our mood, how alert we are and our productivity. We asked dietitian Maryke Bronkhorst why food influences us in this way.

“Some foods contain nutrients that are used to manufacture certain brain chemicals that may enhance mental tasks like memory, concentration, and reaction time. Protein foods enhance the brain’s production of dopamine, a natural brain chemical that helps one to feel alert. Large quantities of refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, result in the production of serotonin, a natural brain chemical that can cause drowsiness, but whole-food carbohydrates and fruit provide glucose in the bloodstream is the brain’s main source of energy. So it’s important that you eat at regular intervals and choose low glycaemic index options to prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping too low”, says Bronkhorst.

‘Go-to’ snacks include:

  • A few nuts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Vegetable crudités with a dip like hummus
  • Lean biltong
  • Plain yoghurt flavoured with fresh berries or fruitt

Move it to lose it

Being active in the workplace is also important. Durban-based dietitian Hlanzeka Mpanza says it’s possible to include some physical exercise in your work day.

Use the steps instead of the lift and walk over to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an email. You could even form an exercise club with colleagues and try to fit in a 15-minute walk during the lunch hour. To stay motivated, wear a pedometer during the day to track your activity level.

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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.