Health

Office Food Is Wrecking Your Body. Don’t Let It.

Published On 10/19/2015 Published On 10/19/2015
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What’s this tin doing in the break room? It looks like Linda attached a note: “Made my famous double chocolate, caramel, beer-dipped, twice-fried, bacon-wrapped brownies. Enjoy!”

Dammit, Linda.

Thanks to Linda and a thousand other temptations, the office can be an unmitigated pit of health disasters. We know you’re not trying to bust your waistline (or your arteries) while you’re at work, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the worst office temptations and a few tricks to resist their foul siren songs.

Flickr/Kerry J

Microwave popcorn

Why is it that the smell of microwave popcorn is tolerable at home, but somehow stinks up the entire office for the five hours after it’s made? Aside from the more pungent side effects, it’s probably best to steer clear of the packaged stuff, since certain brands of microwave popcorn get their buttery flavor from a chemical called diacetyl (I can’t believe it’s not butter!). Diacetyl has been shown to damage lungs, even causing a condition called “popcorn worker’s lung” at the plants where it’s made.  

To make matters worse, most popcorn bags are lined with a non-stick agent called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which the EPA has linked to numerous health and environmental hazards including testicular cancer and infertility.

Do yourself (and testicles everywhere) a favor and try this homemade brown bag popcorn instead.

Flickr/Robert S. Donovan

Frozen meals

Frozen meals are fast, easy, and can often be found for less than $3 a piece. Half-frozen cheese sauce is a small price to pay for affordability and convenience! A larger price? The sodium content of meals not marked with “lower sodium” or “heart healthy” often contain 700 to 1,800mg of this hypertension-inducing mineral. The daily max for most people is 2,300mg. So just do the math. Your heart will appreciate it.

Not only can the sodium knock you down for the count, but some of the “lean” options actually contain too few calories (and nutrients) to give you any sustainable energy. If frozen meals are an absolute necessity at your office, make sure you’re rounding out the meal with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, so you’re not face down in Linda’s brownies come 2pm.

Flickr/Phil Whitehouse

Vending machines

You scrounged up enough coins for that fruit pie in D9, because, come on, the fruit pie says it’s made with “real fruit.” It’s healthy-ish, right? 

One of the problems with packaged fruit pies, and other vending machine fare, is that they need a long shelf life, which often requires the addition of trans fats. The American Heart Association’s recommended daily intake of trans fat?

ZERO.

The FDA considers trans fats so detrimental to your health that they’ve given the food industry until 2018 to have it removed from all food products in the US. The health risks of trans fats are far too numerous to list here, so please, just steer clear.

A good rule of thumb: if something in a vending machine seems like real food (ie, “fruit” pies, “cheese” and crackers, “buttered” popcorn), then there’s a good chance trans fat is hiding inside.

Flickr/Michael

The bowl of loose candy

Who can resist grabbing a handful of the rainbow from the 5gal candy bowl in the break room? It’d be rude not to…

Studies show that we severely underestimate how much candy we consume during the work day when the candy is easy to find (i.e., on the conference room table). While a fistful (or two) of Skittles may give you a sugar buzz, what goes up must inevitably come down. And with a handful of Skittles having around 50 grams of refined sugar, you’re going to come down hard.

The trusty AHA recommends limiting your refined sugar intake to less than 150 calories a day for men, and 100 calories for women. A serving of Skittles contains around 140 calories from refined sugars, so have fun not eating for the rest of the day. Other bowl-friendly candies aren’t much better, so don’t think you’re getting off easy just because you’re not a Skittles guy.

If you simply can’t accept fruit as a healthy replacement (which it is!), then at least try keeping a stash (or bowl) of trail mix with dark chocolate pieces at your desk. And no, that doesn’t mean pick out all the chocolates and leave the almonds for Dave.

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Luncheon leftovers

The sales team just wrapped up a client meeting, which means leftover chips, pretzels, and cookies galore! Woo hoo! By the time you’ve inhaled that 15th chip, you’ve earned yourself about 150 calories, 15g of processed carbohydrates, and less than 1g of fiber.

Contrary to recent popular belief, not all carbs are evil. But the processed ones found in many of our favorite munchies have had all nutritional benefits stripped away, while all the calories remain. Processed carbs lead to quick blood sugar spikes without the fiber, protein, and nutrients to balance it out. They flood your body with a rapid energy supply that you most likely won’t need responding to emails all day, and instead get stored as fat for a longer-term energy supply. So just like the ‘90s Pringles jingle promised, once you pop, you just can’t stop (popping the buttons off your pants).

Try keeping whole-grain treats at your desk if you just can’t resist that crunchy satisfaction.

Flickr/Jesse Wagstaff

Your co-workers

Another week, another office birthday celebration filled with cake, donuts, and bacon-wrapped brownies. Office politics and Linda’s feelings can make it really challenging to say “no” sometimes (or every time). But unless you’re trying to gain 5lbs at the office this year, it’s time to stop being a “yes” man at the office get-togethers.

The trick to deflecting these midsection missiles is paying attention. Linda might offer you brownies because it’s her “specialty.” Mark might call you a “food snob” for resisting his birthday cake. Each food-pusher requires his or her own tactful response. The first time saying “no” will always be the hardest, but once you start to recognize the different styles, it makes for a fun little game figuring them out.

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Nicholas Knock is a freelance because he knows he can’t resist Linda’s brownies. You can follow him when he finally gets back on Twitter.

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