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Diet and Nutrition

Workday Eating: Put Your Best Food Forward

The U.S. Department of Labor has determined that the average work day and related work activities last for 8.7 hours. This means that we spend more than one-third of our day at work! Since we spend so much time working, shouldn't we make the experience as healthful as possible?

According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), approximately one-third of American adults are obese. Obesity serves as a gateway to many other dangerous conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. While employees should make obesity prevention a priority, they are not the only ones who should champion a nutritious lifestyle. The CDC notes that the medical costs paid by third-party payers for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. Thus, both employees and employers alike have reasons to strive for healthy eating not only at the workplace, but throughout the entire workday.

Start at Breakfast

Breakfast has long been recognized as the most important meal, and what you choose to eat at this critical time could make or break your day. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released MyPlate, in June 2011 a nutrition model that replaced the food pyramid. By following the USDA's model, both employees and employers can practice a healthy lifestyle at every meal, including breakfast.

Whole Grains

The MyPlate model and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans both encourage us to make at least half of the grains we eat whole grains, and breakfast is the perfect time to implement this healthy practice. Easy ways to bring whole grains into your morning diet include substituting whole wheat bread for refined white bread and substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes.

Allowing yourself to be guided by food labels will also bring more whole grains into your diet. Choose breakfast cereals that name a whole-grain ingredient first on the label's ingredient list. Examples of whole grains include:

Fruits

Starting your morning with fruit will also set the course for a healthy day. First, buy fresh fruits when they are in season so that you can minimize cost while maximizing flavor. Choosing fruits that are dried, frozen or canned in water or 100% juice will also guarantee that you will have an ample supply. Also, consider convenience. Buying fruits that are already chopped or chopping your own fruit when you return from the grocery store will save you the trouble in the morning. Easy ways to incorporate fruits into your breakfast include:

Dairy

Finally, chose dairy that is either fat-free or low-fat to begin the day. Try to include milk or calcium-fortified soy milk at breakfast. If you are used to drinking whole milk, switch gradually to fat-free milk, and if you drink lattes or cappuccinos, ask for them with skim milk. Adding fat-free or low-fat milk to coffee and cereals will also help you avoid saturated fats.

Surviving the Lunch Hour

Lunchtime is often the period of temptation at the workplace; however, planning ahead is the perfect way to avoid the unhealthy food choices that will appear throughout the day. One option is to bring your lunch instead of eating out, which not only allows you to control what you are eating but also saves money. You can buy pre-washed bags of salad greens and add vegetables that require little or no preparation, such as cherry tomatoes and baby carrots, for a tasteful salad in minutes. However, don't weigh down your salad with a creamy dressing. Choose a salad dressing that is low in fat and keep it on the side, adding it only as needed.

Did you have left-overs from dinner last night? Left-over meals that feature whole grains like brown-rice or whole wheat pasta are often great options for lunch. Also, meals featuring vegetables, like stir-fries or soup, are a great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Craving a desert? Keep dried, canned, or pre-cut fruit on hand to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Sometimes bringing a lunch to work is not always an option, and you may have to eat lunch at a local cafeteria or restaurant. Investigate the menu for healthy options and choose only lean protein, such as white-meat chicken and salmon, and order it grilled, if possible. Dishes featuring rice and beans are usually healthy sources of protein, too.

Fighting the Snack Attack

From vending machines stocked with candy bars and potato chips to donuts and chocolate in the break room, snacks can overshadow the nutritious choices you make throughout the day.  Ideally, it would be best to keep your desk or work area a "food free zone", however when this is not possible, keeping a small amount of healthy alternatives nearby can keep you from snacking on foods high in fat, sodium and sugar.

Items such as fat-free or low-fat yogurt and dried fruit are great to have on hand when you desire something sweet. When you are craving a crunchy snack, consider baby carrots, whole wheat crackers or celery sticks. Snacks rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts are also great alternatives to fried options such as potato chips.

If you have to resort to the vending machine for your afternoon snack, look for 100 calorie snack packs, low-fat string cheese sticks, nuts, dried fruit, low fat granola bars, or baked vegetable chips. If your worksite lacks nutritious choices in the vending machines, talk to your employer about arranging to stock more healthy choices.

Exercise at Work

In addition to nutritious food choices, keeping active throughout the workday can not only support your wellness goals but limit your daily stress. Simple ways to stay moving include:

Adding a nutritious diet and more activity to the workday is something that any worker, regardless of their occupation and work environment, can accomplish. Following these simple guidelines will not only help you achieve a healthier lifestyle, but it will increase your productivity, decrease your stress and maintain your energy, which is something that employees and employers alike can appreciate.

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Last Reviewed: Aug 27, 2013

Jane   Korsberg, MS, RD, LD Jane Korsberg, MS, RD, LD
Senior Instructor of Nutrition
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University