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5 Ways to Improve Lunch at Your Desk

5 Ways to Improve Lunch at Your Desk 0

If you’re like many of us, you end up eating lunch at your desk — a lot. About half to two-thirds of us regularly eat lunch at our desks, AKA “al desko.” Either we’re trying to save a few bucks, lack the time to eat out or we’re using the time to catch up on emails, social media or work. Many health experts are telling us that eating at our desk is not good for our health for a variety of reasons. In a perfect world, we’d be able to get outside and enjoy a leisurely lunch every day with a friend — but we live in the real world, a world that is exceedingly busy and chaotic. If you must eat at your desk, we’ve got some ideas for how to make dining “al desko” healthier and more pleasant!

#1) Make Your Environment More Pleasant for “Al Desko” Dining

If you were choosing a table in a restaurant, would you pick the one with intense spotlights, paper napkins and plastic silverware — or would you choose the one with soft lighting, linen napkins, a clean tablecloth and real flatware?  If you know you’re going to be stuck at your desk for lunch often, these ideas can make it more pleasant:

Get a Placemat, Napkin and Silverware: Instead of hunching over your keyboard and staring at your monitor, clear a space on your desk, even it means lifting your keyboard out of the way. Bring in a fun or peaceful placemat and a cloth napkin and place them in your cleared space when it’s time for lunch. Bring in flatware from home or buy a portable cutlery set that can be neatly stored in your desk. Research has shown people report that food tastes better when it’s eaten using metal instead of plastic silverware.

Get a Small Desk or Floor Lamp: Depending on the size of your space, adding some softer lighting around your desk can create a more relaxing environment and reduce eye strain. If you can, try to sit near natural light or ask if you can remove a few bulbs from the overhead lighting around your workspace if it’s too bright — and turn off your monitor while you eat.

Hang Artwork: Even if you’re stuck in a small cubicle, hanging a few posters or images of a beautiful beach, a flowering meadow or any other soothing scene can make your immediate workspace feel less dull. Try to eat facing your images instead of staring at your monitor. Taking even a 15-minute break from the screen gives your mind and brain a much-needed break!

#2) Eat Somewhere Else in the Office

If you have a breakroom, empty conference room or a lobby in your building, try to eat lunch away from your desk — look for somewhere near a window. If it’s nice outside, take your lunch outside! Research has shown that our brains need a break and we become more productive if we take a few breaks throughout the day.

If your lunch is portable enough to carry to your desk, it’s not that hard to make it portable enough to carry it to a more pleasant location. Just remember to bring silverware, a napkin or anything else that will turn your little lunch-hack-bistro-dining spot into a more enjoyable experience!

#3) Eat with Other Humans

Even better, try to eat with others instead of eating alone. Half of us eat lunch alone — research has also shown that eating with our colleagues fosters teamwork and camaraderie. Invite a colleague to pull over their chair to your desk or to sit with you in the breakroom. Many companies are now implementing policies that ban their employees from eating alone at their desks! You can informally initiate this change in your workplace.

#4) Take a Walk After Lunch

Many of us sit much of the day, which not only makes it harder to keep the extra pounds from creeping on — research has found being sedentary for long periods increases disease risks such as Type 2 diabetes, dementia, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stroke. Check out this infographic from the Washington Post about the dangers of sitting too much.

If you can’t get outside for a 10 to 20-minute walk due to weather or some other reason, find ways to walk around your office — the fire escape stairs can make a great place to get your blood flowing!

#5) Ditch the Boring Sandwich

Are you packing the same, old foods every week — a plain turkey sandwich, a ho-hum frozen entrée, a boring salad or whatever leftovers appear edible? None of those are likely to make you look forward to lunch. It’s not that hard to swap out the boring same-old, same-old for lunch meals that are packed with more flavor and healthy ingredients. If you’re grilling meats, roasting veggies, steaming rice, boiling pasta or making sauces for dinner, make extra that can be repurposed into tasty lunches.

For example, say you made broiled chicken with a teriyaki glaze, roasted asparagus and brown rice for dinner. Use those extras to assemble an awesome bowl! Once you’ve added the rice, chicken and asparagus into your lunch container, add shelled edamame, sliced bell peppers, baby spinach leaves, chopped cilantro and shredded carrots. Drizzle siracha or your favorite condiment and you’ve got a tasty, healthy lunch that’s easy to reheat or eat chilled.   

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, that sounds great — but, I don’t have the time or cooking expertise to craft healthy dinners that will yield amazing extras for interesting lunches.” Instead of running out to the nearest take-out restaurant near your office, you can sign up for home meal deliveries that are packed full of freshly prepared, flavorful ingredients. You order online, they deliver a variety of lunch bowls to your doorstep and you grab one as you head out the door to reheat at your office. You get to enjoy a chef-prepared lunch with none of the work — no shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning or assembling!

With just a few minor tweaks in your work lunchtime routine, you can eat healthier, feel physically and mentally refreshed, reduce your disease risk and maybe even make some new connections with your colleagues. Don’t let dining “al desko” be the low point in your day!


Why Is the Mediterranean Diet the Top-Rated Overall Diet?

Why Is the Mediterranean Diet the Top-Rated Overall Diet? 0

Unless you’ve been touring outer space for the past few decades, you’ve probably heard about the Mediterranean Diet. The U.S. News and World Report hires a panel of experts each year to evaluate popular diet plans and then rates them using criteria such as nutrition, safety, weight loss effectiveness, disease prevention and ease of following. Of the 41 diet plans reviewed, the Mediterranean Diet nabbed the top spot in 2019 for the following categories:

  • Best Diets Overall
  • Best Diabetes Diets
  • Best Diets for Healthy Eating
  • Best Heart-Healthy Diets
  • Best Plant-Based Diets
  • Easiest Diets to Follow

That’s a pretty impressive list of first places! Studies have found that people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea tend to live longer and develop far fewer chronic diseases and health conditions compared to Americans and Northern Europeans. People in these countries don’t eat exactly the same things — Italians love their pasta, Spaniards their paella and Greeks their salad, but the bulk of the foods they eat all have something in common: fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood and healthy fats such as olive oil.

You might be saying, wait, don’t Italians drink gallons of wine and eat pizza, rich and cheesy pasta dishes, white bread and lots of lamb and veal? You will find these foods on many Italians’ tables— but the true Mediterranean way of eating over the centuries has included eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, olive oil instead of butter, nuts, beans and being physically active every day, mostly everyday activities such as walking, working, gardening — they weren’t racing to their CrossFit session or spin class.

It’s also important to note that serving sizes are much smaller than what you’ll find in the U.S. For example, if you go to an authentic Italian restaurant, you’ll see the menu divided into Antipasto (small appetizers), Primi (pasta dishes), Secondi (meat and fish), Contorni (side dishes) and finally Dolci (dessert). So yes, they are eating pasta — but it’s a small portion, not a heaping bowl! Let’s dig into what you can and can’t eat on the Mediterranean Diet, and then we’ll explore the scientifically proven benefits.

What Can I Eat on the Mediterranean Diet?

Unlike many diets, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t about counting calories, eliminating food groups or following a rigid eating plan — it’s about making wiser choices. For example, use olive oil instead of butter and eat whole-grain bread instead of white. A good place to start is reviewing the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Oldways Preservation and Trust created the original pyramid in 1993.

  • At the base (the widest part), the pyramid lists being physically active and enjoying meals with others.
  • Then the next layer up lists fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs and spices. You base every meal around these foods.  
  • Above that layer, you’ll find fish and seafood at least twice per week.
  • Next up is poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderate portions daily to weekly.
  • And at the top, the smallest layer, are meats and sweets meant to be enjoyed occasionally.

Unlike most diet plans, you’re allowed or even encouraged to consume wine — in moderation! That means a glass with a meal. You’re also encouraged to drink a lot of water. So how does this break down into traditional meals?

  • A Mediterranean Diet breakfast might be low-fat Greek yogurt with berries, walnuts and oats or a veggie omelet with a piece of fruit.
  • Lunch might be a tossed salad with tuna or a hummus sandwich on whole-grain bread with vegetables.
  • Dinner might be grilled salmon or chicken brushed with olive oil and herbs, a small serving of brown rice or quinoa and roasted veggies tossed in olive oil and herbs.
  • Snacks can include a handful of unsalted nuts, a piece of fruit or a few whole-grain crackers smeared with hummus.  

You might be thinking, “I like this plan, but I don’t have time to shop and cook all of this fresh stuff.” If that’s you, you can find meal delivery services that offer Mediterranean Diet meals. Let a professional chef do the work while you reap the benefits!

What to Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet

The simplicity of the Mediterranean Diet is one of the reasons the “U.S. News and World Reports” experts ranked it so high. Following the Mediterranean Diet is more of a lifestyle shift versus a short-term diet plan with a single purpose such as losing weight.

What to avoid:

  • Refined grains (white bread, white pasta, bagels, crackers, some cereals)
  • Added sugars (soft drinks, sugary energy or sports drinks, candy, ice cream, rich desserts)
  • Highly processed foods – the general rule of thumb is if it comes out of a box, bottle, bag or can, it’s likely to contain a lot of calories, sodium, fat, sugar, preservatives or artificial ingredients. Even ones labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” often contain a lot of sugar and sodium. This can include salad dressings, jarred pasta sauces and frozen entrees, so read the labels.
  • Hydrogenated oils such as palm, cottonseed, blended vegetable oils and trans fats such as non-dairy creamers, baked goods, movie popcorn, fried foods and margarine.
  • Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage and deli meats.

What Are the Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet?

Unlike many of the trendy diet plans that pop up every few years, the Mediterranean Diet has been around for a long time — so it’s been well-studied over extended periods involving millions of people.

Researchers have consistently found a slew of health improvements in people who have adopted the Mediterranean Diet as their lifestyle eating plan.

Decreased Risk of Heart Disease

Since the diet is high in nuts, seafood and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, you get a lot of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Olive oil also contains elements known to help lower blood pressure. Some studies have found that the Mediterranean Diet helps reduce the risk of death from stroke, heart attack or cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.

Decreased Risk of Cancer

Researchers looked at 27 studies of more than two million people and found that the Mediterranean Diet reduced cancer mortality rates, especially in breast, colon and gastric cancer. Since the diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re getting loads of antioxidants that protect DNA from damage, lower inflammation and inhibit cell mutation.

Boosts Cognition, Mood and Brain Health

Again, the healthy fats and antioxidants help reduce the risks of cognitive-decline diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s. The healthy fats and the carotenoids found in many veggies are also known to improve mood and reduce depression.

Prevents or Reduces Diabetes

In addition to reducing inflammation, which is often the precursor to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, the Mediterranean Diet controls excess insulin, which helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. Complex carbs such as quinoa and buckwheat don’t cause the blood sugar spikes that refined carbs found in white bread and white rice do.

Promotes a Healthy Weight

Although it’s not touted as the number one weight loss diet, you can lose weight on the Mediterranean Diet. You’re cutting out foods high in empty carbs, nutrition-less calories, sugar and trans fats and eating high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods. Over time, if you watch portion sizes and get moderate exercise daily, you will lose weight — but more importantly, you can keep the weight off. So many of us have success with losing weight on trendy weight-loss diets, only to find the weight creeping back on when we stop following the diet plan. Many find once they start following a Mediterranean Diet plan, it becomes normal and doesn’t feel like “dieting.”

Promotes Longevity of Life

Due to many of the reasons above such as lowering disease risks and maintaining a healthy weight, the Mediterranean Diet has been proven over and over to prevent people from dying as early as those who don’t follow a healthy eating plan. It’s a sustainable way to live and eat, so millions of people are choosing the Mediterranean Diet. Are you ready to feel and look better with the top-rated diet? Buon appetito!