Healthy Eating at work


1st to 5th July is Corporate Wellness Week in South Africa where we get to shine a spotlight on our habits and wellbeing in the workplace. For the majority of us, working life involves sitting at a desk for at least 8 hours and eating nearly half of our daily meals and snacks during work hours. This means that the food choices we make on the job could have a significant impact on our overall health and in turn our productivity.

Why is healthy eating at work important?

Employees with an unhealthy diet and who rarely exercise have been found to have a 66% and 50% increased risk of lower productivity than those who eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, respectively. Making healthy food choices at work is often very difficult, especially when you’re stressed, drowning in deadlines, and the office is filled with temptations. But the kilojoules we consume at work still count and we may need to reflect on our habits because the way we eat has a huge impact on our mood and productivity. Just by changing your routine in a few simple ways and by eating the right foods, you could enhance your memory, concentration, energy levels and your ability to manage stress.

Below are 6 simple tips to guide you into making healthier food choices at work.

1. Make the right choices available

The simplest step to help you and your colleagues to make healthy food choices at work is simply to make healthy choices available. In a survey, nearly 30% of office workers from different organisations cited that the most common barriers to making healthy choices are “unhealthy food available in the office” and “lack of healthy options near the office”. Urge your employers to therefore stock healthier alternatives in vending machines, kiosks and the canteen. Make healthy snacks available such as unsalted popcorn, yoghurt, unsalted nuts and fresh or dried fruit and healthy drinks such as still or sparkling water, low fat milk and sugar-free sodas..

2. Portion with caution

When packing your lunch box or plating your meal at the staff canteen, make sure to keep an eye on your portion sizes. You should plate enough that you feel full afterwards which keeps you from snacking too much in the afternoon, yet not too much that you are overeating or wasting food. Use smaller plates, bowls, serving utensils and glasses for drinks. Make sure to also balance your portions of different food groups, using the plate model and as the golden rule of thumb: ¼ starchy foods, ¼ protein food and ½ non-starchy vegetables and salad.

3. Smart sipping

Stay hydrated throughout the day which will not only allow you to feel more alert, but will also ensure that you don’t misinterpret thirst as hunger. Water with a few cups of unsweetened coffee or tea should ideally be your beverages of choice throughout the day. Bring water or homemade iced herbal tea infused with berries, citrus, ginger or mint to work. Be mindful of what you are sipping on during work hours because sugary drinks are loaded with kilojoules which quickly adds up and contributes to weight gain.

4. Host heart healthy meetings

Skip the biscuits, sausage rolls and sugary drinks at your next meeting and opt for healthier alternatives such as icy water, 100% diluted fruit juice, colourful fruit bowls, and vegetable platters with healthy dips such as flavoured cottage cheese, guacamole or hummus. Other delicious snack ideas include unsalted nuts, dried fruit, whole-wheat crackers or cocktail sandwiches spread with no sugar and salt peanut butter, and air-popped popcorn.

5. Pack your own lunch box

Packing a lunch box is not just for school kids, in fact it’s an incredibly valuable habit to take into adulthood. Preparing your own lunch gives you full control over what you eat during the day and it will also help you to curb the urge to visit the nearest vending machine or shop to buy unhealthy meals and snacks. This is especially necessary if your healthy food choices are limited in your office. A healthy, balanced lunch box includes a variety of food groups including high fibre starchy food; lean protein like grilled chicken or tuna; healthy fats like avo, seeds or nuts; veggies; fruit and dairy, whilst avoiding highly processed foods such as crisps, polony, and biscuits.

6. Get physical

The human body is not designed to sit still for several hours on end. Take some time out of your day to get a bit active because it will help to refresh your mind, allowing you to be more productive, creative and less stressed. Take a short walk outside, walk to a colleague’s desk instead of phoning them, stretch every hour, enjoy your lunch or a cup of tea away from your desk and use the lift instead of the stairs. Incorporating some exercise throughout your day adds up and will assist with weight management.