By Lubna Hamdan
Time-strapped executives missing their midday meal are doing more harm than good, experts warn
In a country that is ranked the 12th most competitive in the world by The World Economic Forum (WEF), UAE employees are skipping their lunch in a bid to stay ahead of the game. Conversely, the habit is doing them more harm than good, experts have warned.
In addition to lowering productivity and energy levels, skipping lunch can increase the risks of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
“Productivity in the workplace depends, amongst other things, on a person’s energy levels,” says City Hospital Dietician Minette Prinsloo.
“Without the energy supplied by a lunch, it becomes more difficult to meet the demands of a high paced job,” she says.
“Lunch skippers may find it difficult to concentrate and think clearly, be slower at making decisions and overall accomplish less work.”
According to the dietician, lunch is essential for maintaining blood sugar levels and minimising feelings of tiredness, poor concentration, and irritability; common signs people experience in the workplace.
When people develop unhealthy eating habits, such as skipping lunch, it causes an imbalance in their blood sugar levels. This changes their body’s response to insulin, which puts them at a higher risk of developing lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, says Prinsloo.
What comes hand in hand is poor food choices and gaining weight.
When people skip lunch, says nutritionist Hala Barghout, they tend to snack all day on the wrong foods, such as biscuits and crackers.
“[Skipping lunch] is quite common, since most business people are stuck in meetings all day or out of the office on the go,” says Barghout.
She explains that people overcompensate by having a large meal for dinner, causing a slow metabolic rate and weight gain.
Prinsloo explains further that when there is a lack of food, the body alters its metabolic rate in order to preserve energy.
“This results in storing more food in the form of fat, which may make it more difficult to maintain or reach a healthy body weight,” she says.
Luckily, there are alternatives to skipping lunch, such as these quick and healthy foods, recommended by Mediclinic:
- Whole wheat pita bread filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and tuna canned in water, with low-fat plain yogurt or low-fat labne as a dressing. Have an apple on the side.
- Grilled chicken strips and chickpeas added to a mixed salad bowl. Add a few cubes of reduced-fat feta cheese and have a squeeze of lemon or vinegar as a dressing.
- Quinoa and rocket salad with lean grilled beef strips. Have a small container of low-fat fruit yogurt on the side.
- Grilled salmon with a lemongrass dressing and steamed brown rice. Balanced broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and almond flakes.
- Lean turkey breast slices, avocado and low-fat cheese wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, with cherry tomatoes and baby carrots with hummus as a dip.
- Omelet made with one whole egg and two or three egg whites. Add chopped, tomatoes, mushrooms and sweet peppers to the omelet. Have a slice of seed loaf bread or whole wheat chapatti on the side
Both Prinsloo and Barghout also recommend having healthy snacks throughout the day for energy.
With snacks, a person is less likely to overeat at the next meal, helping them maintain weight and prevent an energy slump that comes after a heavy lunch.
Examples of healthy snacks include fresh fruit, a handful of unsalted nuts, like almonds or walnuts, low-fat yogurt, freshly sliced vegetables, or whole grain crackers with low-fat labne or hummus.
“A healthy lunch is essential to keep you going throughout the day and give you energy to focus and function. This is why people need to pre-plan and make sure on days they skip lunch, they have healthy and balanced snacks for the day,” says Barghout.
However, the medical experts do warn not to fill up on the snacks, as they are meant to be merely a bridge from one meal to the other.