eat workplace wellness

Workplace Wellness Focus on How to Eat for Healthy Heart

It’s lunchtime. Perhaps you skipped breakfast. You’re hungry and looking for something fast, easy (and perhaps tasty) to eat.

This is exactly the moment where a well-run workplace wellness program can help employees maintain healthy eating habits — and exactly the moment where they can be most difficult to instill.

We know that proper diet matters. Last year the New England Journal of Medicine issued a study titled “Association of Changes in Diet Quality with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality.” According to the authors: “Few studies have evaluated the relationship between changes in diet quality over time and the risk of death.”

The results were significant: “A 20-percentile increase in diet scores (indicating an improved quality of diet) was significantly associated with a reduction in total mortality of 8 to 17% with the use of the three diet indexes and a 7 to 15% reduction in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease with the use of the Alternate Healthy Eating Index and Alternate Mediterranean Diet. Among participants who maintained a high-quality diet over a 12-year period, the risk of death from any cause was significantly lower — by 14% when assessed with the Alternate Healthy Eating Index score, 11%  when assessed with the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score, and 9% when assessed with the DASH score — than the risk among participants with consistently low diet scores over time.”

As MedPage Today reported: “People who maintained a high-quality diet over a 12-year period had a significantly lower risk of death than people whose diets were rated low.”

How to Eat for Healthy Heart

As part of  American Heart Month, the American Heart Association offers “Lunch Ideas for Work: Heart-Healthy Options.”

They write: “While at work it can be tempting to reach for a sweet snack around lunchtime, there are plenty of easy lunch alternatives that can benefit your heart. Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., Chairperson of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and Bickford Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont, offers the following tips to help you plan your heart-healthy workday lunch.”

If you bring food to the office, “Wake up 15 minutes early to pack your lunch. Johnson recommends the following heart-healthy choices:

  • Low-sodium canned tuna or low-sodium canned salmon (try it in a salad or on a sandwich with whole-wheat bread)
  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Fresh fruits
  • Non-fat yogurt
  • Veggie sticks
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereal, such as the American Heart Association’s recipe for Creamy Apricot Oatmeal

“For salad dressings, Johnson suggests you keep it natural with ingredients such as canola oil, olive oil or grape seed oil and balamic vinegar or white wine vinegar. She is also a fan of breakfast options for lunch. ‘One of my favorites is whole grain breakfast cereal with skim milk or non-fat yogurt topped with fresh fruit. I love cereal for lunch.’”

If you go out for lunch, “Johnson says to watch out for three things:”

  1. Sweetened beverages
  2. High-calorie salad toppings (e.g. bacon, croutons, packaged or pre-made dressings)
  3. Unhealthy sandwiches (e.g. those made with deli meat due to excess sodium)

Says Johnson: “Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. And, although salads can seem healthy, you need to watch out for high-calorie extras like croutons, bits of bacon and fatty cheeses.”

Instead, she recommends:

  1. Water or skim milk to drink
  2. Salads with vegetables and natural dressing (try asking for olive oil and vinegar)
  3. Tuna or vegetarian sandwiches made with whole-wheat bread

The AHA concludes: “Be aware of your portion size, too. Johnson suggests cutting meals in half before you begin eating.”