Lunches marketed as “healthy” are not always good for you. It’s amazing how the food industry can take leafy green salads, soups, and grilled chicken breasts, and turn them into fat/sodium/sugar laden killers. Is your “healthy lunch” on our list of imposters?
1. Frozen Low-Calorie Entrees
These may indeed be low-calorie and cheap (under $3), but they are high in sodium, heavily processed and not healthy. Lean Cuisine One Dish Favorites Stuffed Cabbage has 200 calories and 6 grams of fat, but contains 690 mg of sodium – 29% of the RDA. What does this mean? If you are on a 2,000 calorie diet, from this entree you are getting 29% of your sodium from just 10% of your calories. Hope you brought some water.
Excessive consumption of high sodium entrees can cause high blood pressure and lead to heart disease, America’s #1 cause of death. Instead of frozen entrees, try bringing in your leftovers from home. They taste great, and you know what ingredients are in them. Leftovers also help you save time and money since you’re eating what you already bought and cooked.
Did you know that a Wendy's Garden Sensations Mandarin Chicken Salad has more calories, more fat, and more carbs than a Wendy’s Double Hamburger? Salad – 520 calories, 25 grams fat, 48 grams carb; Hamurger – 470 calories, 24 grams fat, and 40 grams carb. If you skip the almonds and noodles you save 200 calories and 12 grams of fat. And of course you never use the whole package of dressing, right? One packet of Wendy's Oriental Sesame Dressing has 190 calories and 11 grams of fat.
The best choice is to make a salad at home. Use leafy greens and fresh produce, and top it off with a low-fat salad dressing or just a squeeze of lemon. It’s a safe bet to avoid fast food salads, if only to avoid the inevitable question of, “would you like fries with that?”
3. California Rolls
All sushi is not good for you, and California Rolls are a prime example. These white rice and imitation crabmeat stuffed rolls contain mostly fast-digesting carbohydrates and fat. They are quickly turned into sugar by the body, leaving you hungry 30 minutes later.
Simple carbohydrates like white rice cause sustained spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels which puts stress on the pancreas. Type 2 Diabetes can be prevented by choosing whole grains.
Looking for a healthier Japanese food choice? Start out with a broth based soup (it will curb hunger so you won’t overeat). Opt for sashimi rolls, and take it easy on the rice.
You might think that having a yogurt for lunch is a great way to get protein and calcium. That's true, but be careful which one you choose because it's also a great way to get high fructose corn syrup and chemicals like aspartame and food coloring.
For a healthy yogurt lunch, take plain, low-fat yogurt (preferably organic) and add your own fruit --you’ll actually get a full serving. If you’re not in the mood for a sweet treat, try adding chopped vegetables. Add a side of whole grain crackers, and you won’t think about food until dinnertime.
5. Energy Bars
A quick burst of energy for a marathon runner or a quick burst of sugar and fat for sitting at your desk? Energy bars were designed for endurance athletes. A long-winded meeting that runs through lunch does not qualify!
Energy bars are loaded with sugar and fat. Take a look at the first 10 ingredients of a Chocolate Peanut Butter Balance Bar with all the sugar and the palm kernel oil, which is twice as saturated as lard. Is it any surprise that this stuff is in small print?
Ingredients: Protein Blend (Casein, Whey Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Concentrate, Soy Protein Isolate), Sugar, Corn Syrup, Glycerin, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Gelatin, Peanut Butter (Roasted Ground Peanuts), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Peanut Flour, High Maltose Corn Syrup
When you eat, the act of chewing tells your body that it’s being fed. A 1.76 oz bar takes about 60 seconds to eat, not long enough for your body to register that you’ve eaten – so you end up hungry and craving more sugar. Do yourself a favor and make a peanut butter sandwich with “no-sugar added” preserves on high fiber bread. You’ll be satisfied for hours.
6. Tuna Sandwich
Order a tuna salad sandwich and you may be getting more calories and twice the fat of a cheeseburger. Why? Tuna salad is loaded with mayonnaise. A 6-inch tuna sandwich from Subway has 31 grams of fat and 1030 grams of sodium. Jared walked right by this one, and you should, too.
Homemade tuna sandwiches can be OK. Here are some tips to improve them: choose canned light tuna in water. Avoid albacore tuna, as its usually a bigger fish, and bigger fish have had more time to absorb mercury. If you must have mayo with your tuna, cut it with plain non-fat yogurt. Always be sure to use whole grain bread, and chop in some celery or bell peppers for crunch.
7. Baked potato
So, your plan is to skip the salad and burger and get a baked potato instead? You'd better make a new plan if you're going to Arby's. Their broccoli and cheese topped potato has 460 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 12 of those fat grams are saturated. Angioplasty anyone?
Potatoes are our frenemies. Simply cooked and dressed with a minimum of fat and salt, and, in moderation, they can be a friendly occasional addition to your diet. Take that same potato and deep fat fry it and you're in enemy territory. A king sized order of fries from Burger King has 600 calories, 33 grams of fat, and 990 milligrams of sodium. Eat an order of fries once a week and that's not all that will be king sized.
If you're really in the mood for a potato, bake a sweet potato at home and top it with steamed broccoli. Or if you plan ahead, you can make sweet potatoes and broccoli for a dinner, and bring the leftover for lunch!
8. Canned Soup
Soup may be good food if you make it from scratch. However, canned soup can contain high levels of fats, sodium and artificial preservatives like MSG. One cup of Campbell’s Tomato Soup has 710 milligrams of sodium, and most people eat more than one cup. Anyone on the “chicken soup diet,” should really say they are on the “fast track to hypertension diet.”
If you look hard enough, and are willing to pay more, you can find soups that are low in sodium and decent in taste. Better yet, make your own using low-sodium broth and vegetables. It’s cheaper, tastier, and healthier, plus, depending on the soup you make, you can have more than a skimpy one-cup serving.
9. Meal Replacements
A shake for lunch is not a long-term solution for losing or maintaining weight. The main ingredients in a Slim Fast shake are fat-free milk, water, sugar, and canola oil. Of course, you're going to be hungry in a few hours, and if they've done their marketing correctly, you'll reach for the companion meal replacement bar! What's wrong with a meal anyhow?
If you absolutely need a liquid lunch (one that won’t get you arrested when you drive back to the office), try skim milk and a vitamin, or a low sodium vegetable juice, or make your own smoothie with non-fat yogurt and fresh fruit. The folks who make meal replacements care more about their bottom line than yours.
10. Nissin Cup Noodles with Shrimp
Let’s just call this hara-kiri in an environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam cup. Nissin Cup Noodles with Shrimp has 536 calories, 23.8 grams of fat, and 3220 grams of sodium. That’s 130% your daily value of sodium in one little “cup of noodles.” Plus they’re loaded with palm oil, palm kernel oil’s saturated sibling.
If you’re proud of yourself for bagging a 10-cent lunch, I hope you’re putting the money you saved into your health flexible savings account because you’re going to need it. This is not food, sorry. Pick any of the healthy suggestions above and enjoy!