What are you having for lunch today? A quick salad or sandwich from the food court? Some leftovers? Or maybe a few crackers with tuna at your desk? While we often hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day let’s not forget about how important lunch is when it comes to weight control. The common scenario which now sees busy workers, mums and students eating their ‘lunchtime’ meal at 2 or 3pm in the afternoon; and choosing ‘lunch’ options such as sushi, wraps, rolls and stir fries which are packed full of carbs not only plays havoc with our hormonal balance and cravings but it also sees us consuming a significant number of calories in the second half of the day, when we are least active.
It is a general perception that the less we eat the better. Indeed this may explain why we often choose a light breakfast and try and hold off from eating lunch for as long as possible. This is the worst thing you can do for weight control. The human body is programmed according to a circadian rhythm – this means that the body burns more calories during the day when it is most active. Eating late in the day or many hours after rising fails to tap into the metabolic boost we naturally get during the first half of the day, which is why we feel so hungry mid-morning on days we are consuming breakfast early. For this reason, the earlier you have your lunch, even in place of a late morning snack, the better it will be for your metabolic rate. If you are hungry at 11 or 1130am, eat your lunch then rather than holding off and then binging on sweet foods at 3 or 4pm because your blood glucose has dropped significantly which can leave you ravenous and prone to overeating.
Next lunch holds the key to nutritional balance – a lunch too low in carbohydrates, such as a tuna salad can leave you vulnerable to sugar cravings later in the day, while a lunch such as white rice sushi or a Turkish bread sandwich can overload you on fuel and refined carbs, making it difficult to lose weight. Achieving the right lunch balance to support weight loss and weight control is relatively easy once you know the mix to aim for. To get the amount of vegetable bulk we need to keep full for another 3-4 hours we need at least 2-3 cups of salad and / or vegetables at lunch. Next a decent serve of protein such as canned tuna, lean chicken breast or beef or beans or tofu if you prefer a vegetarian eating plan. The amount of carbohydrate you will need will depend on your level of activity. If you sit down all day for work, just ½ -3/4 cup sweet potato, beans or brown rice or a slice of bread or a few crackers will be adequate, more active workers may require 1-2 cups. Finally do not forget the good fat – olive oil dressing, nuts or avocado will help to slow your digestion after lunch and keep you full. In fact, a recent study published in Nutrition Journal found that individuals who included ½ an avocado with their lunch felt more satisfied and had lower blood glucose levels than dieters who did not.
Most importantly be aware that lunches purchased away from the home are likely to have double, yes double the calories than a home prepared option. Large serving sizes, lashings of oil, sauces and dressings along with higher fat options in general somewhat explains why this is the case. For this reason, if weight control or even weight loss is the goal, taking your lunch from home will always be the best choice nutritionally (and financially). Leftovers; soups or salads teamed with some crackers or a slice of bread tick all the boxes nutritionally while still leaving you full and satisfied for a fraction of the cost of a food court lunch and drink.