Too busy for lunch?

by Alex Lai

This is the second article of a special series on personal branding - Nutrition

Erratic eating habits impair work performance

Carmen Leung, registered dietician
MSL Nutritional Diet Centre
Photo: Courtesy of HKET

Research by the Hospital Authority shows that Hong Kong people are drinking less than three glasses of water every day, eating less fruit and vegetables than necessary, and dining out too often. Carmen Leung, registered dietician for MSL Nutritional Diet Centre says, "Our hectic schedule means we aren't eating regularly, and this and our lack of awareness of our nutritional intake is detrimental to our health." Moreover, though many workers skip meals because they want to avoid interruptions as a way of maximising efficiency, Ms Chan says it actually has the opposite effect.

For example, she says, appearances can influence a number of things such as a person's self-confidence and others' perceptions towards his or her trustworthiness, focus and productivity.

Ms Leung advises people to consult a food pyramid for a quick check of whether they are eating right. A food pyramid describes the basic amount of food a person needs to eat in a given period, usually a day or a week, in order to maintain health. People spend the majority of their day at their place of work, she suggests that this is where they should pay the most attention to the food pyramid.

Simple guidelines

There are some simple guidelines that people can follow to ensure their good health. Ms Leung says, "For example, many people skip breakfast, but eating less doesn't mean we won't get fat. Instead, our bodies become short of glucose, which decelerates our brain operation in the morning, and thus impairs our memory and focus," Ms Leung says.

Many people do not realise that their hectic work schedules are causing them to mix up their eating routine and go for long periods without food, thus reducing blood sugar levels and making them feel dizzy. "It can also give you a stomach ache when you finally do eat something because the body's absorption rate of that meal increases," Ms Leung says.

To counter this, she continues, snacking at work can be a good compromise for people who feel they don't have time for lunch. However, most snacks and junk food contain high levels of fat, salt, or sugar and numerous food additives such as monosodium glutamate and tartrazine. At the same time, they lack vitamins, proteins and fibre. Ms Leung explains, "These kinds of snacks affect our appetite for normal meals as they possess low nutritional values. It is better to eat healthier ones like fruits or even light crackers if we are in the mood for snacks in the office."

Be sensible

Late night snacking is generally a "no-no" as it plays a pivotal role in delivering unnecessary fats, since our metabolic rate normally slows down after six o'clock in the evening. "If you are really starving at night, eat some fruits or light biscuits. And if you are out socialising with friends, try to stick with desserts that are mostly fruits," Ms Leung suggests.

Socialising over a meal has become an unavoidable part of life, particularly in the business world. "We can try our best to avoid oily dishes and large portions, or we can savour the food on the top because sauces and oils are usually left underneath. We should also drink more water and have more vegetables when we go to a buffet," she remarks. "Since our brain receives message from the stomach only twenty minutes after we start eating, we have to remember when to slow down."

In addition to dining out, drinking also affects a person's wellbeing. "We are misguided with the view that alcohol is only liquid and has no calories," she explains. "The number of calories contained in a can of beer is the same as that in two-thirds of a bowl of rice, while that of 125ml of red wine or 30ml of spirits such as brandy, whiskey and vodka is equal to one-third of a bowl of rice. "These 'wishy-washy' calories can damage your liver," she says.

Even the average cup of coffee or tea can have a high level of caffeine and tannic acid, which sucks up iron, calcium and water from the body and causes constipation. Ms Leung says the best advice is to drink water frequently, since maintaining hydration is the key to a healthy body and improves work performance during periods of physical exertion.

Fuel your work life

  • Don't skip breakfast
  • Follow an eating routine
  • Snacking can be a good compromise
  • Drink water frequently
  • Avoid oily dishes and large portions and drink sensibly when socialising

Taken from Career Times 13 July 2007
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