Is Your Lunch Healthy? More Than Half of Americans Aren’t Sure

Is Your Lunch Healthy? More Than Half of Americans Aren’t Sure

More than 56 percent of people recently surveyed said they have a hard time preparing a healthy lunch during the work day.
Experts say making continuous unhealthy lunch choices can lead to greater health risks over time such as obesity and high blood pressure.

Healthy lunches should include items from at least three food groups.
Adding a variety of different colored foods (from whole grains to fruits and vegetables) is a good rule of thumb for determining if your lunch includes a range of nutrients.
If you’d like to start eating better at work but aren’t quite sure how to make lunch a healthy midday meal, you’re not alone.

New research from the American Heart Association (AHA) and food service provider Aramark shows that more than half of American workers struggle to consume a healthy lunch at the office — a meal that proves to significantly impact whether or not they make healthy decisions over the course of the day.

According to an AHA press release, as part of the association and Aramark’s Healthy for Life®20 By 20 initiative, the groups conducted a survey that looked at 907 American adult employees ages 18 and older who eat lunch during their regular work hours.

They found that 56 percent struggle to prepare a healthy lunch, while 77 percent said they would more likely make healthy decisions over the course of the day if they had that nutritious midday meal.

Beyond this, an exceptionally high 91 percent said they were interested in improving the healthfulness of their lunches — something younger employees under 40 were more likely to be interested in than their older coworkers.

The data hasn’t been published officially but is being analyzed for potential publication in the future.

The need for nutritious work lunches
Dr. Anne Thorndike, vice chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told Healthline that a lot of factors contribute to the unhealthy quality of American workers’ lunch options.

“Not every workplace is the same or has the same offerings,” she explained. “Some people choose to bring lunch from home, where they have more control over what they eat. During the work day, a lot of people are busy, they’re stressed, sometimes we have the tendency to quickly get on with our days and prepare something quickly or grab whatever is immediately available at the cafeteria.”

This scattered approach to meal selections doesn’t always lead to the healthiest choices, Dr. Thorndike stressed.

Fast food can be the easy go-to option for many. It’s there, it’s quick — but oftentimes it’s far from healthy.

Many people might just pick up that doughnut, muffin, or slice of pizza readily near their desk out of convenience, she said.

“People may be making food choices under stress, so I think one thing that could help would be to just be aware of that ahead of time. Planning ahead of time is important. If you can’t bring your own food to work, planning when you’re going to eat [or] where you’re getting it is important. It’s built into your day then,” Thorndike added.

Thorndike, who separately published research on the connection between what people buy for their work lunches and cardiometabolic risk, said unhealthy food choices you make at lunch can build up over time.

“If you’re buying a lunch at work five days a week that isn’t a healthy choice, that’s a lot of meals every week. It can contribute to obesity and obesity-related risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, [and] hyperlipidemia,” she said.

Essentially, don’t underestimate how much something as simple as choosing between a salad or burger in the lunch room can have a multi-faceted impact on your overall health.

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