These healthy lunch ideas from leading nutritionist May Simpkin could make it easier to drop the pounds without feeling hungry
Whether it’s a quick ‘grab & go’ in a take out paper bag, a casual bite to eat with colleagues/friends or a hurried assembly from the fridge contents at home, the idea that your lunch can be making you fat may not resonate with your virtuous intentions?
Meal deals…mean you consume more calories, sugars and fats than you intended
Despite hearsay, lunch rather than breakfast can be considered the most important meal of the day. It is crucial that you fuel your body, so that you can meet your energy requirement during the day, when you are active, both physically and mentally.
However, the choices you make at lunchtime can, not only play havoc with your energy balance during the day, but can also be making you fat.
Here are 6 mistakes that can be encouraging gain weight….
#1 Don’t be swayed by Meal Deals
With our busy lives it is not always easy to allow time for meal preparation and it can seem that the only option is to rely on local food outlets to buy in a meal or snack.
However, the disadvantage is that you do not have as much control over your meal choice and you are likely, particularly if you’re in a hurry, to be swayed by promotions and ‘Meal Deals’ that sound appetizing and offer exceptional value for money.
If you’re honest, they often contain items you don’t actually want to eat and probably wouldn’t choose if you were paying full price for each item individually.
Typical meal deal items such as sandwiches, crisps, fizzy drinks/juices and chocolate bars will mean you consume more calories, sugars and fats than you intended and in the long run this will lead to weight gain.
#2 Know the real meaning of ‘healthy’
If you’re looking to lose weight, you are likely to scan a menu and avoid ingredients such as processed meats, breads, cheeses and pasta for example.
However, when presented as a ‘salad’, these foods can be perceived as a healthy option. These days, savvy food manufacturers now present their products with healthy names.
For example, potato crisps can be called ‘vegetable crisps’, a milkshake sounds much healthier when described as a “smoothie” and a sugary drink that’s called a ‘flavoured water’ sounds harmless? An energy bar is nothing more than a glorified dessert or chocolate bar.
Vegetable crisps and smoothies sound like healthy alternatives, but they are not
These foods are extremely high in sugar and fat and will encourage weight gain. They are best avoided completely, instead opting for whole fruits, fresh or cooked vegetables and still water.
#3 Make your own
If you take your lunch, you have ultimate control to ensure that your meals are balanced, healthy and in good proportions.
You may have all the right intentions but if you open your fridge, freezer or larder and do not find good choices, it is not easy to put together a portable lunch before work or school, when you are pressed for time.
Planning is key and here are a few tips and ideas you can begin with….
- Pre-cook vegetables – when you have the oven on, pop in a few vegetables to roast, for example cubes of butternut squash or roasted Mediterranean vegetables like courgettes, aubergines, peppers and red onions.
- Consider your evening meal tonight for tomorrow’s lunch; bake an extra chicken breast or salmon fillet to add in a salad or soup
- Make up a healthy dressing, in advance in a small jar, ready to take for your salad.
Start saving larger jars (1 pint); these are not only practical for a portable lunch but also ensure that you can keep an eye on your portions. Here are a few tips to prepare a healthy portable lunch:
- Fill your jar with leftovers, such as shredded chicken with quinoa and vegetables or a hearty soup like this delicious high fibre Red Lentil and Tomato Soup that can be reheated.
- Using a spiraliser or finely chopping vegetables allows you to pack in more vegetables in your jar or plastic box.
- Try using Miso soup paste for a warming lunch–add hot (not boiling) water with 1 tsp of paste to buckwheat noodles, finely cut vegetables and a hard boiled egg, left over chicken, salmon or pork.
- Layer your jar with a healthy dip such as hummus or guacamole at the bottom and crudités on top. Try this red kidney bean based Beetroot and Horseradish Hummus for a protein-rich choice.
#4 Don’t leave it too late
Your day has run away with you and before you know it, it’s 3pm and you’ve yet to have lunch. You’re ravenous, perhaps a little lightheaded or feeling anxious and jittery? These are all signs of low blood sugar and your body is sending messages to the brain to eat….sugar.
These messages are very difficult to ignore, as your body has registered that you may not have enough sugar to satisfy your energy requirement and its priority is to ensure you can meet this need. The resulting cravings will mean that you likely to gorge on high calorie sweet foods.
As these foods are not satisfying, you may also eat your lunch a little while later, therefore consume more calories and more sugars.
If you’ve missed lunch altogether, you may resort to snacking on convenient dried fruits; such as raisins and apricots or portable fresh fruits; such as grapes and bananas.
These fruits specifically are all extremely high in sugar and will cause blood sugar fluctuations and consequently weight gain if eaten in excess.
Eating a small handful of nuts (around ten maximum) with a piece of fresh fruit and preferably a less sweet variety such as an apple or citrus fruit, will help to avoid the blood sugar surges, the dips that inevitably follow and the consequent cravings.
#5 Know your Salad Saboteurs
The word ‘salad’ is ubiquitous and where once it may have symbolized a collection of fresh, richly coloured leaves and vegetables with a simple oil and vinegar/lemon dressing, you will find today that, as food outlets strive to serve more creative yet cost effective choices, salads are often packed with starchy vegetable varieties such as sweet potato and butternut squash or grains like couscous or pasta, which add bulk.
Shop salads are packed with sugars and carbs disguised as ‘healthy’
If the salad is then topped with crunchy croutons and accompanied with ‘healthy’ wholemeal roll and comes with a dressing that uses the words ‘honey’ or ‘sweet’ in its description, you are eating a huge amount of carbohydrate and therefore, effectively, sugars.
Without the energy requirement to accompany the high intake of sugars, this will lead to weight gain, as the excess sugar is converted to fat and stored, generally around the middle.
Choose salads that are mainly dark green leafy greens such as rocket, watercress and spinach, with at least 3/4 other vegetables and ensure dressing is on the side so you can use a small amount only.
Oil based dressings are likely to be lighter, especially home made
Ready-made salad dressings are one of the biggest offenders. They’re often high in fats, sugar, salt, calories, artificial flavours and preservatives. Dressings like blue cheese and ranch are the worst.
Oil based dressings are likely to be lighter and therefore a better choice and it’s so easy to combine some lemon juice/vinegar with olive oil for a healthy home made option.
Whichever dressing you opt for, be careful not to pour too much and drown your healthy salad. Your salad should be lightly tossed with dressing, not soaking in it.
When ordering in a restaurant, ask for the dressing on the side so you can control how much you add or choose sandwiches that do not contain creamy fillings loaded with mayonnaise.
#6 Make sure you eat enough
Following the notion of ‘Calories in vs Calories out’, eating a small lunch may seem like a good idea if you are trying to lose weight. For example, you may opt for a small box of sushi or a miso soup as light choices.
However not all calories are equal and eating a meal that is naturally high in fibre, such as vegetables, beans and pulses will provide good satiety and help you to feel fuller more quickly and for longer, thereby reducing the amount you eat, the likelihood of cravings and snacking later in the afternoon.
They also have the added health benefits of helping with cholesterol levels, hormone balance and improving digestion.
Eating a small lunch to lose weight is not a good idea
Each meal should also contain good lean protein, such as eggs, chicken, turkey, tuna or beans/pulses, tofu or cheese. Proteins are more complex nutrients and along with good high fibre choices, will help also ensure you are fuller to longer.
Tip: Avoid refined grains such as white rice, white pasta and white bread; these provide little fibre or key nutrients and as carbohydrates, are high in sugars and will encourage weight gain. They are best eaten in small portions and in their higher fibre forms such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta and wholemeal bread.
May Simpkin is a BANT registered nutritional therapist and MSc Personalised Nutrition; providing a deeper insight into root cause of symptoms.