What does your typical lunch look like? Are you ravenous by 12h30, feeling fatigued and with a slight headache; or are you quickly having something in the car while picking up the kids from school. Most people are having something to bite in the one hand while bending over and surfing the internet or trying to meet your deadline with the other. Can you even remember what you ate and how it tasted and when last did you have lunch completely away from work and did not think or talk about work at all? Continue reading if this sound familiar.
How lunch affects your body both mentally and physically!
Most of us don’t realise the importance of lunch. We get consumed by which tasks we need to complete and we forget about our bodies. How do you feel at 5pm? Can’t you wait to get to the gym, or do you feel like you just need to relax after this long day? Is your tummy rumbling as you drive into your driveway and the first thing you do is check the fridge to see what might be waiting in there to reward you after your hard days’ work.
When choosing what to eat for lunch, making a healthy choice is really important. Your lunch determines your energy level, your concentration, work performance and above all a balanced lunch each day can keep you from getting sick and more importantly help you to maintain a healthy body weight.
Lunch is important to everyone, including, toddlers, scholars, students, mothers, working adults as well as the retired! We all need to maintain our energy level and mental fitness throughout the day and not just for a few hours of the day.
Why you should take a break and have lunch:
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, but a light meal or snack in the middle of the day, re-energizes your body and mind. To have lunch is to ‘re-fuel’ your body as it raises blood sugar levels, providing your body and brain with energy to improve concentration (in the work setting) and physical activity (in children playing sport). When you take a break and have lunch it will help you to feel refreshed and ready to take on the next several hours of the day instead of feeling sluggish and being unproductive.
What if lunch is skipped?
Your body needs food for energy and strength. When lunch is skipped, your energy levels drop, and your metabolism goes into starvation mode, thus storing fat more effectively for times when you go without food. This causes havoc with your metabolism and can make it difficult to control your weight. In addition, if your blood sugar drops you are more likely to eat foods that provide instant energy such as sugary food, sweets and refined carbohydrate. Your insulin levels will rise shortly after the snack causing your body to once again store excess glucose as fat.
Your energy tank needs fuel throughout the day. Skipping meals and running on empty throughout the day may also lead to overeating at night. This means dumping all the energy in your body when you relax at home and don’t need it. The excess energy is converted to fat and may contribute to weight gain.
What happens if you don’t choose wisely?
Having snacks and lunch while at work and at school are important. Having the wrong snacks means you will run out of energy before your next meal or snack, which contributes to cravings, poor concentration and fatigue. Choosing the correct snack or meal is very important. Follow these practical guidelines to ensure your tank does not run out in the middle of the day.
Keeping your energy tank TOPPED-UP throughout the day:
For optimal energy you need a variety of healthy foods from each food group in your lunchbox:
Choose carbohydrates low in glycaemic index (GI):
Carbohydrates, which include starch, sweets, fruit, vegetables and dairy products, are the primary fuel for our bodies as they get broken down to sugar and are readily available for energy production. If you include these foods in your lunch, it will help in refuelling your tank. However not all carbohydrates are equal. Some carbohydrates are digested very quickly delivering a large amount of sugar in your bloodstream. This contributes to a quick rise in blood sugar levels providing us with immediate energy. After an hour the sugar will be either used as energy or the excess will be stored as fat, leaving your tank empty with no sugar or ‘fuel’ available. These foods are referred to as high GI carbohydrates. Food low in GI provide a gradual release of sugar in the bloodstream, leading to a sustainable supply of energy for your working day or sporting activity. To keep your tank topped-up, choose carbohydrates low in Glycaemic index.
A healthy lunch should always include a serving of protein:
Foods high in protein such as legumes, lean meat or poultry, fish, eggs or dairy are packed with essential nutrients such as iron – required for concentration, physical activity and building healthy muscles. Adding protein to your lunch also helps to maintain a stable blood sugar level (as it lowers the GI of your meal) to prevent the all familiar late afternoon crash. When choosing protein for lunch, ensure to include a variety of protein sources throughout the week to avoid boredom and choose lean options that are baked, grilled or boiled.
Don’t exclude all the fat:
Adding plant fats to your lunch such as nuts, avocado pear, peanut butter and olives will lower the GI of your meal and contribute to sustainable energy and a feeling of satiety. On the other hand, foods high in animal fat such as butter and cheese or deep fried foods, prevent the utilisation of sugar for energy but instead convert it to body fat, leaving you feel tired.
Omega 3 fatty acids aid concentration and should be included in your meals. Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids are: walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, sardines, pilchards and mackerel.
Include fruit and vegetables:
By adding fruit and vegetables to your lunch you don’t only add colour and variety to your meal, but fruit and vegetables are also packed with vitamins and fibre to improve general health. One should aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Include 1 – 2 portions of fruit and 1 portion of vegetables in your lunchbox. (One portion of fruit = tennis ball size; one portion of vegetables = ½ cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup salad)
Fluid is very important in terms of optimal mental and physical well-being. Your hydration status plays an important role as 75% of your brain is made up of water and 82% of your blood. Water transports nutrients in the body, flushing out waste products or toxins and helps to convert food to energy. An adequate amount of water is vital for daily functions, as a mere 2% drop in body water can negatively impact short-term memory and normal bodily functions.
Each person’s daily fluid requirements are individual and it is not as simple as consuming 8 glasses of water each day. Factors such as type of work, temperature, body weight and age play in role in determining your daily fluid needs. We need 30 – 35ml fluid per kilogram body weight (e.g. 2400 – 2800ml for an 80kg individual).
Choose your fluids wisely. Sipping on beverages with sugar e.g. cold drinks, contribute to increased energy intake, and if not taken in moderation may lead to weight gain. Fruit juices also contain fruit sugar and should be taken in limited amounts or diluted with water. Be cautious with caffeine! Too much coffee can contribute to dehydration. Try to keep coffee or tea to a maximum of 2 cups per day. Keep an eye on our Face book page over the next few weeks for interesting ideas on keeping yourself hydrated.
The five puzzle pieces for building a healthy and exciting lunchbox:
You need to plan ahead! You can’t leave lunch for the morning or 5 minutes before lunch. Take meetings, travelling and sporting events into consideration as shopping beforehand is essential.
Make your lunch interesting. Avoid having that same peanut butter sandwich each day. By including a variety of foods, you avoid boredom and you ensure a variety of different nutrients. Your lunch should be your mid-day treat and something to look forward to.
Resist temptation! Avoid packing high fat foods, fizzy cold drinks or sweets if your children ask for them. We all have the inner child or rebel inside of us. Don’t give into temptation e.g. thinking that a piece of cake or chocolate can replace your lunch. As the old saying goes a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips or more appropriately, a sweet moment on the lips mean an energy slump later in the afternoon.
Choose a small cooler bag with an ice brick if you don’t have a fridge to store your lunch. Also use airtight containers and re-sealable bags to prevent leaking or wastage.
Take time out
What do you do in your lunch time? Do you just sit in front of your computer or are you glued to your phone? Is it a quick 60 second munch or do you actually recharge your mind? Research has shown that taking a break from work and work activities in your lunch (even if it means to walk around the block) improves work performance and concentration for the last half of you working day. Take a break; you won’t be sorry at 4pm!
Lunch should not be seen as just a quick 2 minute break, but a time you should spend wisely since it will determine your productivity for the rest of the day.
“A man may be a pessimistic determinist before lunch and an optimistic believer in the will’s freedom after it” – Aldous Huxley