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home : columns : dr. k April 24, 2015

2/14/2013 11:50:00 AM
Dr. K for February 14, 2013
Eat a healthy lunch to avoid energy dive

DEAR DOCTOR K: Can you give me some tips for eating a healthy but satisfying lunch?

DEAR READER: Yes, I can, but first let me observe that many of my patients seem to think that what doctors recommend as a "healthy" diet is just today's latest fad. They think the advice could change next year.

That's wrong. The advice I'll give you is based on 50 years of studies involving millions of people whose diets and health have been studied for decades. In other words, it has a strong scientific basis. At least as important, you can follow the advice and have delicious meals -- healthy food can taste really good!

Back to your question. Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but don't give your lunch short shrift. Eating lunch helps maintain your blood sugar level so your energy won't take a midday dive. A healthy lunch will also help you concentrate and function better in the afternoon, and it will help you avoid hunger that can lead to overeating at dinner.

Do you tend to forget about lunch until you're starving, and then reach for the nearest bagel or burger? If so, you know the importance of planning ahead. When possible, bring your lunch from home. If you'll be eating in a restaurant or cafeteria, make healthy selections.

A healthy, balanced lunch should include three food groups: lean protein, whole-grain carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables. Roughly half of your plate should be vegetables or fruit. One-quarter should be lean protein. That can include fish, chicken, turkey, tofu or low-fat cottage cheese. And one-quarter of your plate should be whole grains; for example, one slice of whole-grain bread, or a half cup of brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or quinoa. I've put a number of specific lunch ideas on my website,

Frozen microwavable entrees tend to be a popular lunch choice. Look for those with no more than 350 calories, 4 grams or less of saturated fat, 15 grams or more of protein, and 600 milligrams or less of sodium per serving. Supplement the entree with a handful of baby carrots or fresh fruit to make it more filling and nutritionally complete.

If you tend to grab food on the fly -- perhaps eating a croissant on the way to a meeting -- mentally account for those calories. Say to yourself, "This is part of lunch." Then fill in with an apple and a carton of nonfat plain yogurt as soon as you get the chance. Or consider alternatives to croissants that also taste delicious, but that deliver healthier calories. For example, I snack most afternoons on a small bag of mixed nuts. Nuts are full of "good" fats, whereas croissants are full of "bad" fats.

Finally, use your lunchtime as an opportunity to get away from your desk. Eat a quick, healthy meal, and then go for a brisk walk.

(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.)

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