1. Reading and Understanding the Label
It is very easy for me to say check the label before you purchase something but you need to be able to understand what to look out for on a nutrition label.
Before diving into the nutritional value of the product, first, check the ingredients list. You want to avoid items with extensive ingredient lists and with a large number of additives and preservatives. The ingredients are listed in order of quantity, for example, if sugar comes up as one of the top three ingredients, it means the item will contain a large amount of added sugar (something you want to avoid).
Once you have checked the ingredients list then I would be taking a look at the nutritional content. Remember to check the weight of the product and ensure the figures you are looking at refer to the amount you are going to be consuming. Some products will state per portion, however, occasionally the small print will state a portion is only half of the product.
Additionally knowing your body and what your body requires in a day, will help you select an appropriate portion size for your grab-and-go lunch. Aim to fill a quarter of a plate with a high-quality protein source, a quarter of the plate with a carbohydrate source, half the plate with vegetables and a thumb size portion of healthy fat (this might be seeds, nuts, avocado, cheese or maybe a dressing, sauce or the oil used in cooking). This is obviously a very generalised guide and will vary from person to person but can be a great starting point. If you are training hard and frequently, you can double the amount of carbohydrates in the meals around your training sessions.
2. Include a High Quality Protein Source
Many ‘on the go’ products are low in protein, and consequently are higher in carbohydrates and fats. Protein is vital for many reasons but one to be aware of is its satiating property. When looking at the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), proteins are the most satiating ie. will fill you up the most. You want to be feeling satisfied after a meal to prevent the desire to graze all afternoon and prevent cravings from kicking in. Therefore, by ensuring all meals and snacks contain a high-quality protein source, you should be going from meal to meal feeling energised and satisfied.
3. Avoid Deep Fried Foods
Where possible avoid anything deep fried as these products will be high in saturated and trans fats. Consuming foods such as this frequently will increase total calorie intake and lead to sluggish feelings. This is why more nutritious, natural, wholesome, fresh foods will make you feel better and sharper.
4. Check the Salt Content
Many ‘on the go’ products are higher in salt to help their shelf life; however, as adults, we are recommended not to consume more than 6g of salt per day. Products containing a traffic light label will be helpful here as the product will show ‘red’ for the salt value. Shop-bought soups and tinned products are sometimes extremely high in salt, so do be mindful of this.
5. Check the Sugar Content
As adults, we are recommended that our daily free (added) sugar content should not exceed 30g per day (that is just 1 can of coca cola to put that into perspective!). As mentioned above, check the ingredients list for sugar and hidden sugars too which might be included as agave nectar, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, sucrose, fructose, molasses and fruit juice concentrates. Many products that you believe to be healthy products contain many of these additional ingredients such as breakfast cereals, granolas, bars, dressings, sauces, drinks and tinned foods so be aware when purchasing favourites.
6. Opt for something containing Vegetables, Salad or Fruit
Ideally, you want to be choosing something that contains vegetables or fruits to help boost daily micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) intake and fibre intake. For example, a chicken salad sandwich would be a better choice than a plain ham and cheese sandwich. A bowl of mixed grains, vegetables and tofu would be a better choice than a sausage roll/pastry.
On average, we typically do not meet our daily recommended requirements of dietary fibre (30g per day), so choosing something containing vegetables, salads or fruits will help boost this. Anything containing wholegrains such as seeded bread, quinoa, pearly barley or rice would also be helping to boost the fibre content.
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