Bringing your own lunch to work can be a smart way to save money and cut calories. But how healthy is your bagged lunch really? You might be surprised to learn your “healthy choices” could give you diabetes, heart disease or even cancer. To demystify the “healthy” choices you find in the grocery store, let’s take a look at some of the top offenders.
If you think that turkey sandwich is a healthy choice, think again! While turkey can be a lean alternative to fatty hamburgers and hot dogs, unless you’re buying the all natural kind, deli meats are full of sodium and preservatives. Modified food starch, MSG and sodium nitrate, anyone? Even worse, the World Health Organization warns us to limit our consumption of processed meats like deli turkey, or we may face an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
What to try instead: For a lean and clean protein, buy a savory rotisserie chicken and add it to sandwiches and salads all week long. Pop an open-face chicken sandwich in the toaster oven for a lunch that will turn your coworkers green with envy.
Pre-portioned frozen meals are an easy way to have a hot meal at your desk, but have you ever looked at the nutrition labels? We’d need a chemistry degree to recognize all of the ingredients in a Lean Cuisine! In addition to preservatives that help these foods last for months, frozen meals can hide a surprising amount of sodium and sugar — which can be listed under all sorts of names. What do sucrose, galactose, diatastic malt and fruit juice crystals all have in common? They’re all sneaky names for sugar.
What to try instead: When you prepare meals in your own kitchen, you can nix the chemicals and decide exactly how much salt, fat and sugar goes into your foods. We recommend buying single-portion containers and trying some freezer-friendly meals. But if you must visit the frozen aisle, one of these 450 or fewer calorie dinners can be a smart choice.
Granola and Energy Bars
Granola bars and energy bars can be easy meal replacements for the busy professional. But many common bars contain more sugar than a candy bar with less of the indulgence. In fact, supermarket choices like Clif Builders and healthy-sounding options like Go Raw’s Apricot Bar exceed the amount of sugar that the American Heart Association recommends for an adult woman to eat in an entire day!
What to try instead: If grab-and-go energy is indispensable to you, be sure to read the nutrition labels and choose your bar wisely. Like frozen dinners, packaged bars can contain sugars disguised with all sorts of names. We recommend bars with 5 grams of sugar or fewer — or skip the bar entirely and choose a filling snack like a hard-boiled egg, fresh fruit or roasted almonds.
Who hasn’t been lured into the trap of faux-healthy juices? All those fruits and vegetables packed into one convenient bottle! The trouble is, even 100% juice drinks don’t contain the dietary fiber that slows your absorption of whole fruit’s natural sugars. Fast-digested sugars in juices can increase your risk for obesity and diabetes, and can also leave you vulnerable to afternoon cravings. To make things even worse, dietitians warn that liquid calories don’t give us the same feeling of fullness as similar solid foods.
What to try instead: Try ditching that juice for a piece of whole fruit, or a fresh fruit salad with a protein-rich dollop of plain Greek yogurt. No time for peeling and chopping? Grab a pre-sliced party tray at your local grocery store, and enjoy nature’s candy all week long.
Bon appetit! Now that you’ve filled your body with healthy fuel, it’s time to put away that lunchbox, and get back to work!
Image: Randy Heinitz