Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon. Just about everything we eat is converted by our body into glucose, which provides the energy our brains need to stay alert. When we’re running low on glucose, we have a tough time staying focused and our attention drifts. This explains why it’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.
Not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate. Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereals, and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Others, like high fat meals (think cheeseburgers and saucy sandwiches) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.
Unhealthy lunch options also tend to be cheaper and faster than healthy alternatives, making them all the more alluring in the middle of a busy workday. They “feel” efficient. Which is where our lunchtime decisions lead us astray. We save 10 minutes now and pay for it with weaker performance the rest of the day.
Make your eating decisions before you get hungry. If you’re going out to lunch, choose where you’re eating in the morning, not at 12:30 PM. If you’re ordering in, decide what you’re having after a midmorning snack. Studies show we’re a lot better at resisting salt, calories, and fat in the future than we are in the present.
THE BENEFITS OF A HEALTHY LUNCH
Eating in the middle of the day, several hours after breakfast, re-energizes your body and can raise blood sugar levels when focus and concentration are flagging. If you’re feeling sluggish, eating even a small lunch can renew your energy and help you feel refreshed and ready to take on the next several hours.
In addition, eating lunch keeps your metabolism active, especially if you have a snack before and afterward. Extended periods of starvation between large meals creates gaps which keep metabolism from staying active.
It’s common to want to skip lunch if you’re trying to lose weight or cut calories, but that strategy rarely works. According to the Weight Control Information Network, people who regularly skip meals tend to weigh more than people who eat often throughout the day. Skipping lunch can rev up your appetite later, causing you to overeat or choose foods that have poor nutritional values.
Eating a healthy lunch can help keep your metabolism active and your body healthy, but some foods pack more of a nutritional punch than others. Combining healthy carbohydrates with lean protein to form a concentrated, long-lasting source of energy. Examples include
salads, a lean turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, or low-fat cottage cheese with fruits and vegetables.
Ideally, a healthy lunch should offer a balance among the five main food groups: grains vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.
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