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Could Your Lunch Be Putting You at Risk for Diabetes?

November 30, 2020
Could Your Lunch Be Putting You at Risk for Diabetes? - Lark Health

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How the mid-day meal can affect body weight, productivity, and even blood sugar levels.

How is your lunch working out for you? Is it satisfying hunger and keeping you focused during the afternoon? Or are you feeling bloated afterwards, and hungry or sleepy by mid-afternoon? 

If you suspect your lunch may not be as healthy as it could be, or if you are not sure, it may be time to think about it. A few changes to lunch can help with weight loss and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Lunch and Your Health

Do you look forward to lunch all morning? Your body may be looking forward to it, too! A healthy lunch can:

  • Help with weight loss by revving metabolism and reducing hunger.
  • Improve overall nutrition and health by supplying essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
  • Support lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Help prevent afternoon fatigue by stabilizing blood sugar.
  • Lower the risk for type 2 diabetes by reducing blood sugar swings and improving weight management.

On the other hand, less-healthy lunches can have the opposite effects.

What's a Healthy Lunch?

How do you know if your lunch meets the standard? Most days, a balanced lunch can have protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It might include:

  • 1 to 3 servings of vegetables, such as in salad, on a sandwich, in soup, or as a side.
  • 1 or 2 servings of a high-fiber carbohydrate, such as fruit, a whole-grain such as whole-wheat bread or brown rice, or a starchy vegetable such as sweet potato, peas, or butternut squash.
  • A serving of a high-protein food, such as tuna, beans, tofu, chicken, cottage cheese, or egg. Choosing plant-based proteins, such as beans, lentils, or tofu, can have the added benefits of providing fiber and being associated with lower risk for type 2 diabetes, according to information published in Endotext.
  • A bit of healthy fat, such as olive oil in salad dressing or peanut butter on a sandwich.

What a lunch doesn't include can be as important as what it does. Certain items are high in calories and/or linked to higher risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. These are some items that you may want to limit for health reasons. 

  • Processed meats, such as hot dogs, salami, bologna, and other luncheon meats.
  • White bread, buns, and rolls, white rice, and refined white pasta.
  • Mayo-laden coleslaw and tuna, egg, chicken, and potato salad.
  • Fried foods, such as French fries and fried chicken.
  • Chips and refined white crackers.
  • Cookies and snack cakes.
  • Soda.

Harvard School of Public Health offers more suggestions for making dietary changes to prevent diabetes.

Eating healthy doesn't mean cutting out great-tasting foods. It may just mean changing them a bit so they are healthier.

If you love this… …Try this instead!
PB&J sandwich on white bread
Peanut butter and sliced banana or blueberries on whole-grain bread
Tortilla chips, potato chips, or pretzels
Air-popped popcorn, sugar snap peas, baby carrots, baked kale chips, or whole-grain crackers
Cookies or snack cakes
Frozen banana dipped in melted dark chocolate, or graham cracker with cottage cheese or non-fat cream cheese
Tuna, chicken, or egg salad sandwich on white bread or a white roll
Tuna, egg white, or chicken salad made with yogurt instead of mayo and diced celery and tomatoes, in a small whole-grain tortilla wrap


Restaurant versus Home Cooking for Lunch

Many Americans eat out multiple times a week, and a significant portion of these restaurant meals happen at lunch. Benefits include not needing to pack a lunch, getting delicious food, and possibly spending time with work colleagues, but restaurant eating comes with a price. 

Not only is it typically more expensive than packing a lunch, but meals from restaurants tend to have more calories and often fewer nutrients than home-cooked meals. According to research published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating in a fast food or full-service restaurant on a given day is associated with higher intake of calories, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol compared to days when they do not eat in a restaurant.

If you have been too busy to pack a lunch but you would like to, consider these tips.

  • Pack it the night before.
  • Consider cooking extra dinner so you are sure to have leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.
  • Simple components work fine: string cheese, whole fruit, raw vegetables such as baby carrots, nuts, and whole-grain pita pockets are all healthy and ready to eat.

If you really want to eat out, there are ways to do so more healthfully. Looking for smaller portions, adding vegetables when you can, and skipping fried foods and starchy sides can make a big difference. These are some ideas.

Instead of Ordering This… Consider Ordering This…
Double cheeseburger and fries
Small or kids’ hamburger with and a side salad, carrot sticks, or apple slices
Broccoli cheese or cream of tomato or mushroom soup
Minestrone, vegetable, lentil, or chicken noodle soup
Meatball or Italian sub with mayo and cheese on white bread
Turkey, chicken, or cheese sub with extra veggies and mustard on whole-grain bread
Salad with crispy chicken, bacon bits or Italian meats, cranberries or other dried fruit, croutons or chow mein noodles, and creamy or full-fat dressing
Salad with grilled chicken or shrimp, feta cheese, or beans, fresh fruit (such as diced apple), sliced almonds or other nuts, and low-fat or vinaigrette dressing.
Fried or crispy chicken sandwich
Grilled chicken salad


How You Eat Matters

Don't forget that how you eat affects health in addition to what you eat. Taking a break from lunch is good for productivity (let your boss know that!). It can also help:

  • Prevent back pain from sitting at a desk all day.
  • Prevent insulin resistance and high blood sugar that results from sitting for too long without moving around.
  • You eat less due to paying more attention to the food instead of eating while working.
  • Reduce stress levels by giving you a break.

To get more benefits from lunch, consider:

  • Walking outside to eat at a park or on a bench.
  • Going to your backyard or an outdoors area if you are working from home during COVID-19.
  • Making it a sit-down event with everyone in the household instead of a free-for-all.

Lunch Ideas

The perfect lunch for you needs to reflect your own lifestyle, but here are some ideas to get started.

Twist on Traditional - Box Lunch

Whole-grain sliced bread, mini-bagel, pita pocket, or English muffin with peanut butter, hummus and veggies, or chicken, lettuce, and tomato, along with an apple and baby carrots.

With the Family - Pizza

Top whole-grain pita bread or English muffins with tomato sauce, shredded low-fat mozzarella, and diced vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers, with diced grilled chicken or crumbled ground turkey optional. Greek pizza: with tomato sauce, feta cheese, oregano, bell peppers, and artichoke hearts.

Snack Lovers - Snack Assortment

Assemble your favorite snacks, and enjoy! Possibilities include grapes, grape tomatoes, celery or cucumbers with a container of single-serve plain yogurt, a string-cheese stick, hard-boiled eggs, air-popped popcorn, almonds or other nuts, and oranges...just to name a few ideas.

Breakfast for Lunch

Pack breakfast-lover's lunch the night before as you mix cottage cheese, milk, and oats with vanilla extract, walnuts, and banana, apple or pear and cinnamon, or blueberries.

Fast Food Run - Grilled Chicken Salad

Look for grilled chicken or shrimp, beans, or cheese to sit on top of a base of lettuce, spinach, or other greens, and opt into any other offered vegetables. Salsa, or balsamic vinaigrette are common and good choices.

Signs and symptoms are unlikely to appear during prediabetes, so don't wait for them! Instead, it is time to take action if you have prediabetes or have other risk factors for developing diabetes. You could be at risk for type 2 diabetes and eligible for a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) if you have one or more risk factors such as being overweight or obese, being over 45 years old, being physically inactive, or having a family history of type 2 diabetes. 

Lark Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) offers coaching through your smartphone to help manage prediabetes and lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Your Lark coach is always available to help with lifestyle choices that can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. Lark is designed to help you establish healthy habits around areas, such as weight loss, nutrition, physical activity, and even sleep and stress management, that can effectively lower blood sugar and help avoid symptoms of diabetes. Plus, you may even get a scale or Fitbit without any cost to you!

The entire program may be available to you for no cost if your health insurer participates. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark! Lark is completely convenient and ready to chat whenever you are. You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to managing prediabetes and improving health.

About Lark

Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.

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