You know that bag of potato chips isn't a healthy choice. But it's three o'clock in the afternoon and you haven't had anything substantial to eat since the donut you ate this morning with your fifth cup of coffee.
For many people, lack of time is a major reason why they don't eat healthy. Many foods people can quickly grab while "on the run" are not healthy choices. Remember that bag of chips and donut? Both are highly portable and readily available at any gas station or convenience store, but a long john donut can contain more than 400 calories and 21 grams of fat while a typical bag of chips has more than 150 calories and 10 grams of fat.
Admittedly, eating a decent meal can be difficult, especially if your department has a high call volume that keeps you on the run. But difficult doesn't need to mean impossible.
Eating healthy can be easier when planning meals you eat at home. MyPyramid.gov outlines nutritional guidelines that can help serve as a base for making healthier food choices. Learning to read a nutrition fact label can also go a long ways in helping to understand serving sizes, daily values and nutrients.
But what menu item do you choose when your only option is restaurant food? What if you need a snack to tide you over until dinner?
When it comes to mealtime, Jennifer Kelly, CHC, AADP, Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, Holistic Health Counseling, suggests looking for a diner, pizzeria or Greek restaurant. "In the fast food world there are truly very few healthy choices, simply because most of the options are not real food," she says. "I encourage my clients to seek out real food when eating out. Find salads and vegetable plates. I often order one or two sides or an appetizer as a meal. There aren't going to be the best choices available when you are on the run, so we have to do the best we can. If that means adding broccoli rabe to a slice of pizza, at least you've eaten some greens!"
When choosing which restaurant to patronize, the American Heart Association recommends doing a bit of legwork by visiting a restaurant's website to identify the healthiest menu choices.
However, if you don't get an opportunity to do any research, pass on value-size servings. Super-sizing inevitably increases the amount of fat, sugar, sodium and calories you consume. Also opt for a side salad or fruit cup as your side dish and choose a baked potato with vegetables or fat-free or low-fat sour cream instead of French fries. Look for grilled protein choices rather than those which are breaded and fried, and don't order sandwiches with double meat.
According to the Department of Foods and Nutrition, The University of Georgia, healthy snacking can actually help you stay more alert and think more clearly. Just be sure to avoid desserts like cake, doughnuts and soft drinks. Instead, choose snacks that are more moderate in fat, sugar and salt, and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Cut vegetables, fruit, whole grain crackers, calcium-rich dairy and protein-rich foods are all good choices. Get into the habit of keeping healthy snacks with you so you'll always have a nutritious option handy.
Also consider the timing of your desired snack. If you're hungry but mealtime is about an hour away, choose a small, low-calorie snack (about 100 or 200 calories) such as a medium-sized piece of fruit or a half-cup of juice. If your next meal is a few hours away, choose something more substantial (200 to 250 calories) such as whole-grain crackers with cheese or a sliced apple with peanut butter.
Learning how to eat healthy on the go is also easier if you know what to look for. Focus on food that is actually food, suggests, Jennifer Kelly. "Anything real is better than a processed food," she says. "'Real food grows in the ground or walks (or walked) around. It will usually turn bad quickly if left out."
Conversely, processed food usually comes in a bag, wrapper or package of some kind. "And it usually has so many preservatives that even if left out, it doesn't get moldy," she says. "Fruit, dried fruit (unsulfured), raw nuts, raw seeds and carrots are simple snack choices that are easy to carry around."
While you may not always have a healthy snack available, don't fret over completely eliminating perceived "bad" foods from your diet, such as chocolate. According to research done at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Germany, and published by Science Daily, chocolate can be good for you, at least in small amounts, and preferably if it's dark chocolate. Studies showed that just one small square of chocolate a day can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Research presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd Annual Meeting also indicated that eating chocolate may lower your risk of having a stroke. Chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which may have a protective effect against stroke.
The same can be said for coffee. "I don't think the problem with coffee is coffee," says Kelly. "It's the poor quality of most coffees that contain lots of pesticides and chemicals, and the quantity that many people consume. If you are relying on low-quality coffee for energy, there is a much bigger issue going on under the surface."