Candy dishes, cupcakes and cookies abound in the typical office, so if you're striving to eat healthy, the workplace can be a culinary minefield.
Researchers surveyed more than 5 000 people and found that about one in four working adults said they got food or beverages from work at least once a week. Many of those foods were high in calories, processed grains, and added sugar and salt, according to scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It all adds up
"People should probably be concerned about all the foods they're getting at work. So many of them are free, but people don't realise that all those free foods do add up to a lot of calories over the week. And, those calories don't necessarily line up well with [healthy] dietary guidelines," said study author Stephen Onufrak. He's an epidemiologist with the CDC's nutrition division.
The study reported that the average worker ate about 1 300 calories of foods obtained at the office every week.
Foods consumed at work included those purchased from vending machines or cafeterias, as well as those eaten for free in common areas, meetings or worksite social events.
Among the top 10 items obtained at work – either free or purchased – were coffee, water, soft drinks, sandwiches and potato chips, the study found.
The highest calorie items people got at work – free or purchased – included pizza, soft drinks, sandwiches, chips, cookies, brownies, donuts, pastries and burgers.
"Since so many of these foods were free, workplaces can adopt healthy meeting policies that encourage healthy foods that are more in line with workplace wellness efforts," Onufrak said. He added that workplace wellness programmes are effective at reducing workplace costs and absenteeism.
You don't have to partake
Dietitian Samantha Heller said people definitely underestimate the calories they eat at work. "You don't think much about it if you grab a bag of chips in the break room, but that's 150 calories. And if you do it three or four days a week for months, those calories really start to add up," she said.
And the ubiquitous office candy dish? "You grab a pre-wrapped chocolate or two as you walk by and think nothing of the calories," Heller added. "But if you do that a few times every day, slowly those extra calories will put on the pounds."
If your office provides food in meetings, break rooms or a cafeteria, Heller suggested that you ask whoever does the ordering to include some healthy selections.
"We don't like to turn down free food, but there are many days it's going to be someone's work anniversary or birthday. You don't have to eat something to celebrate with them," Heller said.
It's easier to forgo office goodies if you're not hungry, she noted. "If you're not hungry, you're more in control," Heller said. "If you can, bring healthy food to work with you."
The study findings were published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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