Fuel intelligently for focus, mood and concentration
Lunch is a meal that can be seen as simply functional for many; a refuelling on the run, rather than the important stocking up on sustainable energy and nutrients that it should be. Our bodies have large needs in terms of function, maintenance and recovery and we quickly start to suffer if we don’t respect the level of healthy food that these demand.
The very reasons for the ‘hit and run’ version of lunch are those which create even more need for a real break with time to chew and digest a variety of healthy foods. Increasing stress levels and time demands mean that we may be running our bodies harder, so using up more energy and nutrients to keep reacting to these. If we don’t provide resources needed or replenish those used up we quickly start to see the signs of poor coping with stress. This is when our bodies can no longer adapt to the challenges presented to them and symptoms such as afternoon energy dips, fatigue, headaches, irritability, insomnia and depression start to show.
Recharge the batteries
The very nutrients we need to cope with stress – vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc to name a few – are quickly used up in the stress response, so unless we choose meals which put them back we can start running on empty pretty soon and turn to sugar and stimulants like caffeine to keep us going instead. A decent lunch can do this and also help provide slow-feed energy from the complex carbohydrates in whole foods to help regulate out the ‘highs and lows’ of energy that can lead to these cravings and stress symptoms.
You can see me offering some handy hints for making the healthiest choices from Pret in a video I made for Wahanda here:
- Do make your own lunch whenever you can, even if you commit to doing this just twice on weekdays, it will help promote the feeling that you are looking after yourself and making the healthiest choices you can. Getting into a routine will tend to help you cook more from scratch at home and spend less on expensive take-away options. Make more for dinner and take as a packed lunch or freeze portions of stews and curries to take in a thermos.
- It is now much easier to buy alternatives to sandwiches that are actually filling enough for lunch like stews and salads. Even just swapping to rye bread can leave us less fatigued as wheat intolerance may lead to afternoon drowsiness. Hunt around and investigate what your accessible shops, cafes and sandwich bars have to offer.
- Do use lunch to increase your intake of vegetables – just having them at dinner is never as much as your body needs to provide the fibre, vitamins and minerals it needs, which can leave you craving less healthy foods.
- Do choose a healthy protein to balance blood sugar levels and energy for the rest of the day eg lean meat, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, goat’s or sheep’s cheese.
- You may have read much praise for sourdough rye in my book The De-Stress Diet. As the sourdough process breaks down the anti-nutrients that may cause common digestive and inflammatory upsets, this delicious bread is a wise health choice too. Rye also has some, but less often problematic gluten than wheat, although you might suit a wheat granary bread that has been made with traditional methods (left a good time to rise), rather than cheaper breads. If you make friends with a sandwich bar near to where you work, you will usually find them very amenable to making up a sandwich with your own bread and their fillings and sandwiches. A mix and match of home and take-away can work very well to satisfy the perennial problem of time versus healthy eating!
- Don’t’have a sandwich every day – if you eat bread, at least have several days off wheat each week and opt for a baked potato (with protein such as smoked salmon, egg, houmous, organic chicken, feta cheese) or salad (or both) instead.
- Don’t leave lunch too late and then grab just anything because you are so hungry or irritable from the inevitable blood sugar dip. Plan a proper lunch break and eat to take yourself through the afternoon.
- Don’t choose refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries and pies – these release energy too quickly causing afternoon energy slumps and also provide fattening ‘empty calories’ and set up craving cycles.
Buying from supermarket chains on the high street:
- Buy or bring in a protein part like smoked mackerel, smoked salmon, prawns, boiled egg, goat’s cheese, bean portion, nut roast or tofu.
- Add a small or half large bag of leaves (rocket, watercress, spinach etc) and any extra salad bits you like; beetroot, avocado, cucumber, cherry tomatoes.
- Buy a ready-made salad instead of the above but check not mainly in grains (starchy carbs) like noodles, pasta or rice. You may be choosing to have a small portion of these but ensure in that case you add enough of the salad veg above that this fills more of your plate.
- Small salad pots like Greek salad, Nicoise types, lentil salads can be useful to add salad veg too but often too small and unsatisfying or simply not enough vegetables.
Nationally found chains
Pret – have a particularly good weekly soup range, which always works well with a small side salad or take your own sourdough rye to add.
EAT – good salads, just choose those with more veg than starchy noodles; also good soups but could have extra veg added as lots of noodles.
Starbucks – not known for its food but sometimes the only location choice for something that isn’t bread or wheat based; their new bistro box range can be a better choice but you might want to add more salad.
Boo, just in London but keep reading anyway!
And apologies to those of you – most I know – who don’t live in London, but these great chains are only situated there at the moment. If outside the Big Smoke, there are good ideas for lunches on these menus (and Leon do a great cookbook) and please do let us know of anything similar or that helps make your De-Stress lunches in your home or work town. I would love to get nationwide suggestions to add:
Chopd – the best way to order your exacting requirements without feeling you’re being fussy, their menu has great lunch ideas.
Itsu – gorgeous salads (although a tad rice heavy) and noodle potsus good for those happy to have a grain portion at lunch.
Leon – best filling, tasty and healthy choice in our book, with lovely attention to design that makes the experience even more enjoyable; good cookbook too.
Camden Food Company – good salad and soup range although one of each is not enough, you’ll need one of each.
Please let me know your lunch tricks, breaks and food finds, send to link