Contrary to common belief, lunch (rather than breakfast) should often be considered the most important meal of the day. What you eat and how much of it is crucial in determining how you can meet your energy requirements, both physically and mentally, throughout the day.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a quick ‘grab & go’ takeaway, a casual sit-down with friends or colleagues or a quick hoovering of the fridge’s content. I’m fairly sure that what matters for you most is that you will feel full and that it doesn’t make you fat.
If you make bad nutritional choices not only it will play havoc with your energy balance for the rest of the day but can also make you gain weight.
As a general rule, you should avoid refined grains such as white rice, white pasta and white bread; these provide little fibre and other key nutrients and as carbohydrates, are high in sugars and will encourage weight gain. They are best eaten in small portions (if not avoided all together) and in their higher fibre forms such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and wholemeal bread.
I can think of several common mistake people make when choosing their lunch and can lead to weight gain:
Stay away from ‘meal-deals’ as they often contains items you ought to avoid but tend to buy because of the attractive price. When we’re in a hurry, it is easy to be swayed by promotions. Your typical meal deals will usually contain items such as sandwiches, fizzy drinks/juices, crisps, chocolate which bears down to having a greater calorie consumption. Same goes for meals that include ‘free’ dessert.
Learn the true meaning of ‘healthy’ because names of foods and ingredients are very often misleading. In fact, savvy food manufacturers use despicable strategies to confuse you and buy their junk. Don’t let buzz-words turn you on: When manufacturers use these buzz-words they usually mean to fool you into thinking that these are healthy choices. This is merely a marketing ploy. Don’t be fooled by it. Words such as sport drinks, energy bars and even multi-grain bread (which often contains High Fructose Corn Syrup) all intend to side-blind you. Other common abuses include calling potato crisps ‘vegetable crisps’, renaming a milkshake as a ‘smoothie’ or using the term ‘flavoured water’ instead of sugary drink. These are all best avoided completely and instead opt for whole organic foods such veg and fruit, whether cooked or raw, grass fed and free range meat and still water.
Be in control by making your own (preferable from scratch) and ensuring your meals are
balanced, healthy and in adequate proportions. For that you need to ensure that your fridge and pantry are well stocked with all the right choices since it is difficult to make healthy food from scratch when your fridge is full of crap. So make time for ‘detoxing your kitchen’ and ensure to restock diligently. Planning is the key word here and let me give you a few tips on that subject: Stock up on larger storage jars, pre-cook your vegetables for a few meals. Cook a larger dinner so you can use have some of it for lunch tomorrow. Don’t use bought salad dressing, used olive oil and balsamic or make your own dressing
Don’t wait until the last moment because leaving it too late is likely lower your blood
sugar leaving you little lightheaded and perhaps feeling anxious and jittery. At this point the message the body is sending to the brain is ‘give me sugar, and fast’. You don’t want to come to this point because this is where bad nutritional choices are usually made. If you’ve missed lunch all together, for some reason, you better snack on a few nuts and a piece of fresh fruit (preferable a low GI one such as apple or citrus). It’s a much better option than, say, dry fruits which are jammed packed with sugar and will lead to a sugar spike.
Don’t corrupt your salad with starchy vegetables (such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash or grains like couscous or pasta, which add bulk). Also leave the croutons out and definitely skip the side bread or bread-roll as these area all carbs. Salad dressings that contain honey or other ‘sweet’ taste better be substituted with olive oil, vinegar, lemon, spices and herbs. You want to avoid all these cars because effectively they are sugars. If you have these sugars and don’t’ burn them, the weight will pile on as excess sugar is converted to fat which is usually stored where you don’t want it. Your best bet is to choose salads which are made mostly from mixed dark leafy greens and a good mix of other (non-starchy) veg. Remember, one of the biggest ‘offenders’ of all times is ready-made salad dressing (packed with fats, sugar, salt, calories, artificial flavouring and preservatives). So if you must have it, ask for it to be served on the side to you’re in control of how much you apply. Rich salad dressings such as blue cheese top the list of these ‘offenders’. Even when it comes to olive oil, apply with moderation. Remember, this is salad, not a soup. Keep it dry and don’t soak it.
Don’t starve yourself because it’s easy to under-consume which can lead to screwing up
your metabolism (which is a subject of another blog). You don’t want to do that. Following the notion of burn more than you consume (if you wish to lose weight) eating a small lunch can seem like a good idea. For example, a small box of sushi or miso soup can be good choices. Sushi can be a healthy option if you choose wisely. But remember that not all calories were created equal and eating a meal which is naturally high in fibre, will help you feel fuller for longer, thereby reducing the amount you eat and the likelihood of craving and snaking later in the afternoon. Foods rich in fibre also have the added benefit of helping tweak your cholesterol levels, hormonal balance and digestion. Having said that, balance again is a key, so remember that each meal should also contain good lean proteins (such as eggs, chicken, turkey, tuna or legumes, tofu or cheese).