8 Foods You Should Try To Avoid At Lunchtime
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You always hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—but what you have for lunch can make or break a big chunk of your day, too.
Choose the right combination, and you can maintain energy all day long. But select the wrong balance, and you can be left cranky, irritable, and hungry before your afternoon coffee hour even rolls around.
How you feel after your meal depends largely on what you packed on your plate. That doesn't mean you have to completely cut out certain foods, though, says Brian St. Pierre, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition. That can foster an all-or-nothing mentality, which can leave you prone to over-indulging on those particular foods if you finally do chow down on them—not helpful, of course, to any weight loss or heathy eating goals.
Instead, try to imagine your foods on a better-to-worse scale. There are some you should eat more often, and other you should eat less often. Here are eight you should steer clear of when you can.
1. WHITE BREAD
If you assemble your sandwich with the right ingredients, it can be a healthy and satisfying midday meal. But more often that not, you might turn to not-so-great for you options when you’re rushed—and white bread is one you want to avoid if you can, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness Studios.
With very little fibre and a high glycemic index (GI), white bread is likely to spike your blood sugar, meaning that afternoon slump will hit you hard. That’s because foods with a high GI often cause a “rebound” drop in your blood sugar, which is responsible for the energy crash and cravings that may hit later on in the day, White explains.
“Switch to whole grain bread for a filling and nutritious boost in fibre,” says White.
Plus, research suggests whole grains are great for your heart: Nutrients like fibre, vitamin B and zinc work together to lower your cholesterol, improve your blood sugar, and prevent obesity.
What you put on your bread matters, too, says St. Pierre. Even just one tablespoon of mayo bumps your sandwich by nearly 100 calories. And since it’s virtually all fat, you’re not reaping many more nutrients, either, he explains.
“Other dips like guacamole or pesto are rich in healthy fats, vitamins and minerals,” says St. Pierre. They also contain less overall calories, more filling fibre and flavour, and have a similar texture to mayo, he says.
3. GRANOLA BARS
Granola bars seem like they’d be a great snack to pair with your lunch, but they usually offer very little nutritional value, says White.
“Many popular granola bars are high in sugar, with very little fibre or protein to keep you full,” he explains. Their high sugar content—coupled with the lack of protein and fibre—can set you up for a serious blood sugar crash, leaving you hungry afterwards.
If you love granola bars for the convenience, you can look for ones made of whole ingredients (think nuts and seeds), which will usually boost its fibre and protein. Aim for less than 10 grams of sugar per bar, suggests White.
Better yet, nix the bar completely and replace it with a quarter cup of nuts and a serving of fruit for lasting energy, he says. The nuts are a good source of protein and healthy fats, while the fruit offers a dose of fibre and disease-fighting antioxidants.
4. FLAVORED YOGHURT
While yoghurt is typically classified as a “health food”, some flavored varieties can pack a tonne of added sugar, says White. In fact, your favorite fruit-on-the-bottom variety probably contains more sugar than a fizzy drink can.
Plus, flavored yoghurt contains little fibre, and unless we're talking about the Greek kind, it skimps on the protein, too. So you're basically looking at a cup of empty calories.
“Make your own fruit and yogurt parfait with plain Greek yogurt, berries, chopped walnuts, and a drizzle of honey, or overnight oats” suggests White. “This combination provides less sugar and offers more fibre, protein, and healthy fats.”
Crisps don’t really add anything but empty calories to your meal, says White. With no fibre or protein, they aren’t going to help keep you full, either.
St. Pierre agrees: “Crisps are highly processed, and are specifically engineered so that it makes it hard to stop eating them. In fact, crisp companies know exactly how much oil and salt to add, and precisely how crunchy to make their crisps to maximise your consumption,” he says.
Translation: Your crisps are literally designed to be can’t-put-them-down delicious, meaning you probably won’t stop at one serving. So while one serving of Walker's—about 15 crisps—clocks in a 150 calories, you can easily double that if you're mindlessly crunching from the bag. And when's the last time you counted out your chips beforehand?
If you want something savory and crunchy, go for roasted chickpeas or snap pea crisps for a better source of protein and fibre, says White.
Or, snack on a handful of roasted nuts, since they “provide lots of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, magnesium, fibre, and protein,” says St. Pierre. Plus, they mimic the salt and crunch factor you’re looking for with crisps.
6. SUGARY DRINKS
Fizzy drinks aren't the only sweet drink you need to avoid. Energy and sports drinks load up on the added sugars, too, says White. That translates to excess calories, which can quickly increase the number on your scale, he explains. Not to mention, these drinks also spike your blood sugar levels, causing an energy crash later on.
Chugging sweetened beverages can be bad news for your overall health, too, since downing them frequently has been associated with weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, and tooth decay, according to the .
Diet drinks aren't the answer, either. When people sip on the zero-calorie stuff, they tend to overcompensate by excessively eating foods high in calories, sugar, and salt, a study published in the found.
Swap your sugary drinks for water or herbal tea, says White. That simple switch can save you the 140 calories a day you'd get from a can of Coke, adding up to nearly 1,000 calories per week.
If you craving a little carbonation, choose a zero-calorie sparkling water instead. You can always flavour it yourself with a wedge of lime or lemon.
7. SALAD AND CHICKEN
But salad is healthy, right?
“Lots of people think a large mixed green salad with grilled chicken is a smart lunch,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., author of. “However, it usually leaves them wanting more, a lot more!”
The problem with eating nothing but chicken and lettuce for lunch is that your meal is missing some kind of fat and fibre, both of which help keep you feeling fuller for longer. If you’re skimping on those ingredients, you’ll likely crash or feel hungry before your next meal, says Gans.
This one is simple, since your meal is already on the right track.
In addition to chicken or some other form of protein, Gans recommends adding avocado and legumes, like beans or chickpeas, to your salad. You’ll get a nice boost of healthy fats from the avocado, and a bump in fibre and protein from your legumes, both of which will keep you satisfied and provide long-lasting energy, she says.
8. AN OVERSIZED PORTION OF PASTA
Pasta isn’t evil, but eating an oversized portion of white noodles for lunch without any added protein won’t keep your stomach satisfied throughout the rest of your afternoon. In fact, you might end up feeling sluggish afterward.
Plus, if you don’t add anything else to your plate, you can easily go overboard on calories, according to Gans.
“It’s not the pasta that is the problem per se, it is the lack of protein,” says Gans.
So opt for just one serving of whole grain pasta. The rest of your plate should consist of vegetables, like broccoli sautéed in some olive oil, and protein, like chicken. This way, you’re getting some carbs, protein, and a little bit of fat for a more balanced meal, says Gans.