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High Taste, Low Cal Food with Paula Mee

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Paula Mee, Nutritionist

You may often feel too busy and stressed to stop whatever you're doing, but taking a half hour lunch can re-energise and help concentration, performance and productivity when you return back to the task after your break.

In a recent UK study, one in five workers and one third of women say they never eat lunch - and 40% of those who do lunch take less than 15 minutes.

People who skip meals during the day, and then eat lots in the evening, are more likely to be overweight than people who eat regularly throughout the day.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

. "Lunch is only for wimps!" - Lunch is for productive people who want to benefit from taking 20 minutes out to relax and refuel - the rise in blood sugar following the meal aids concentration and brainpower. Giving your mind and body a break, even for 30 minutes, can help increase your productivity and mood, not to mind your long term health. Having smaller meals and snacks throughout the day helps us to control blood sugar levels and blood lipid (fat) levels, rather than meal skipping and binging later.

. "Eating lunch makes me sleepy in the afternoons" - The body's daily natural rhythm (circadian) dips in the early to mid afternoon and that's why you often experience a drop in energy levels at this time. To combat this, eat slowly absorbed carbohydrates with some protein for lunch to top up energy levels and to keep you more alert for the afternoon ahead. If you eat a very large lunch or drink alcohol with your lunch, this tend's to make the dip feel worse. Many people counteract this with a cup of coffee after lunch. Dont fall into the trap of skipping lunch and using caffeine and other stimulants to keep you buzzed for the afternoon. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest at night so that you are not sleepy because of tiredness.

Tips and Tricks:

. You schedule time for everything else, so make lunch equally important and schedule time for that as well. Write it in your diary as you do other appointments. Block out time in your diary - if you have an online or electronic diary, set this so that it cannot be over-booked by someone else without your permission

. If you are expected to attend meetings over lunchtime, suggest that sandwiches and fruit are provided - avoid those plates full of chocolate biscuits and pastries. You can often have sandwich platters delivered - request light fillings and ask to have mayonnaise and sauces on the side - you're paying, so ask for what you want.

. Arrange to meet a friend for lunch at least once a week - ensuring that you take time out of the work place to eat a meal.

. Make a week's worth of soup at the weekend, pop into individual containers and put them into the freezer. Take one out in the morning and it will be defrosted by lunchtime, pop into your microwave at work and enjoy with some crusty bread or wholemeal crackers.

. If you need to work or travel over lunchtime and are not sure if you will be able to buy lunch, take a sandwich and fruit (fresh or dried) from home to ensure you have something to eat when you are hungry.

. Buying a sandwich is often an instant decision, so look for the nutritional information. It needs to be upfront and clear. Many leading sellers of packaged sandwiches - such as the big supermarkets and coffee chains - put nutritional information on their sandwich packs. But it's not always good news.

In a recent study a common supermarket's chicken and pancetta caesar sandwich contained more salt and saturated fat than a portion of chips combined with a large burger. Many supermarket sandwich fillings, such as red cheddar and tomato, contain more than half the recommended daily amount of saturated fat - a high intake of saturated fat is linked to heart disease.

Good Lunch Choices:

Having lunch is vital, but so too is what you eat. The following are core lunch foods for your shopping list:

1. A healthy condiment - hot peppery relish
Low in fat, adds lots of flavour without adding fat and calories and therefore you can cut down on the mayonnaise and creamy calorie-laden dressings.

2. A healthy carbohydrate - wholemeal bread or crackers
A great way to boost the fibre content of your lunch and lighter than bread which can weigh you down for the afternoon. Seeded crackers are high in fibre and therefore filling so will keep you going throughout the afternoon.

3. A low-fat protein filling - canned tuna in spring water
Everyone has tuna in the cupboard as a stand-by, and you can dress it up in many ways to make delicious lunches from it. Tuna in springwater is an excellent choice as it is lower in salt and fat than tuna canned in oil or brine.

The following are less nutritious lunch choices:

1. White bread with ham, cheese, mayo and coleslaw, and a packet of crisps -563 calories

2. Panini with bacon cheese and sundried tomato- 726 calories

Food - Bad Choice

White bread
with ham,
cheese, mayo
& coleslaw,
& packet of crisps

Calories - 563

Fat (g) - 38.5

Saturated fat (g) 17.7

Fibre (g) - 2.9

Salt (g) - 2.6

Healthy Alternative

Chicken & grape
salad with Rivita

Calories - 354

Fat (g) - 8.7

Saturated Fat (g) - 1.4

Fibre - 7.6

Salt (g) - 0.3

Chicken and grape Salad

(Served with 4 Rivita Crackers)


. 200g roasted chicken breast fillets - skin removed, cubed

. 175g (6 oz) seedless grapes, halved

. 85g (3 oz) red onion, diced

. 3 stalks celery, diced

. 1 bunch fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

. Handful blanched flaked almonds

. As little extra light mayonnaise as you can use


1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, grapes, red onion, celery, basil, almonds and mayonnaise.
2. Mix well.
3. Chill and serve.

Tuna Salad

. 1 (185g) tin tuna in springwater, drained

. 1 orange - peeled, sectioned and cut into pieces

. 1 1/2 tablespoons extra light mayonnaise

. 2 tablespoons cashew halves

. 1 teaspoon ground ginger

. 1 teaspoon lemon juice

. Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

. Handful fresh spinach


1. In a medium bowl combine the tuna, orange pieces, mayonnaise, cashews, ginger, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
2. Mix well.
3. Serve over a bed of spinach or lettuce leaves.

3 important Food Groups for Lunch:

1. A low-fat plant protein - Beans: A low-fat source of protein and source of soluble fibre, beans are low GI so they will fill you up for longer without weighing you down throughout the afternoon. Beans add bulk and substance to soups and there are lots to choose from so experiment with different varieties. It's fine to use tinned versions - just drain and rinse them before using.

2. A low calorie nutrient packed vegetable - Spinach / Rocket:
Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables like rocket and watercress with their delicate texture and jade green colour provide more nutrients than any other food. The darker the leaves, the greater the nutrient content.

3. A low calorie nutrient rich filler - Beetroot:
Beetroot is high in folate, a vitamin that is essential for the nervous system and proper functioning of the brain. Beetroot has long been used for medicinal purposes, primarily for disorders of the liver, given their stimulating effects on the liver's detoxification process. It gives delicious flavour and colour and is perfect with a sharp-tasting cheese such as feta.

Example of a less nutritious lunch:

Bad Food Choice: Lasagne and chips - typical canteen lunch- 1304 calories

Calories - 1304

Fat (g) - 71.4

Saturated Fat (g) - 26.4

Fibre (g) - 8.0

Salt (g) - 3.8

Healthy Alternative

Minestrone Soup with Crusty Granary Roll
& Beetroot, Feta Salad :

Calories - 583

Fat (g) - 21.9

Saturated Fat (g) - 8.4

Fibre (g) - 11.9

Salt (g) - 3

Minestrone Soup

(Makes 4 servings)


. 1 onion, finely chopped
. 2 garlic cloves, crushed
. 1 celery stick, chopped small
. 1 carrot, diced small
. 2 tsp olive oil
. 2 tins tomatoes or 1 jar passata
. 1 tin black-eye beans, drained
. 30g (uncooked weight) spaghetti, broken into small pieces
. 2 baby courgettes, sliced
. 300ml vegetable stock
. Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
. 1 tbs grated parmesan (optional)


Roughly chop the onion, garlic and celery. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and fry the vegetables until soft (about 3 minutes). Add the tomatoes, drained butter beans, basil and stock and stir. Leave to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Whiz half of the soup with a blender or food processor. Return to the rest of the soup and add the parmesan if using. Serve piping hot with a crusty granary roll.