Health Column: How to make that ‘deskfast’ healthy

09/16/2011 10:50 AM |

A new word entered the dictionary in the last few years. According to some estimates, about 20 percent of us now have “deskfast,” eating when we get to work, instead of breakfast at home. That can make it a challenge to get healthy, whole foods and avoid excess calories. Fortunately, if deskfast is your preference, you don’t have to forsake health.

A strategy for a high-energy, health-promoting breakfast is to include a good source of protein plus a whole grain and a fruit or vegetable. For protein, consider dairy or soy versions of skim milk, low-fat yogurt or reduced-fat cheese, an egg, peanut butter, walnuts or almonds. For a less traditional breakfast, grab leftover chicken or chili. Juice is one quick way to get vitamins and antioxidants, but if you’re trying to lose weight or have trouble with mid-morning hunger pangs, studies suggest that solid fruit or vegetables may keep you satisfied longer — and for fewer calories.

For some people, deskfast automatically means something that’s picked up at a fast food restaurant, coffee bar or convenience store on the way to work. Identify your top choices ahead of time so you don’t just grab. The large biscuits and croissants loaded with sausage, bacon, cheese and eggs are high-calorie and may supply nearly a whole day’s saturated fat and at least half a day’s sodium. Jumbo muffins, Danish and scones are also 350 to 500 calories, with eight to 12 teaspoons of sugar that may leave you in an energy crash an hour later. Reduced-fat bakery items may be healthier, but they often remain a sugar-laden refined grain that’s cut surprisingly few calories.

Better choices for these quick pickups include a small breakfast sandwich on an English muffin, toast or small deli roll with an egg or cheese or perhaps both. Unfortunately, finding a whole grain for breakfast at any of these takeout places is rare, but you can at least avoid excess fat, sugar and calories while getting protein to see you through the morning. Check your local cafés for oatmeal, a great whole-grain staple. If you combine it with the little packets of nuts and dried fruit that often come with it, you can have a balanced meal and still have room for an extra piece of fruit or a small glass of juice or skim milk latté while keeping calories in the 400 to 425 range, which works for most adults. Check the breakfast wraps available at many coffee quick stops, too. Fruit and yogurt parfaits can be a healthy option, but if they include high-sugar yogurt and a heavy dose of granola, calorie content can soar.

Finding fruit is sometimes the hardest part of deskfast-to-go. If your favorite spots don’t offer much, make it a habit to grab a banana, apple, pear or other fruit as you leave home in the morning. Take five minutes to wash or cut up fruit the night before, and you can even expand your fruit variety.

Bringing not just fruit, but your whole deskfast, from home can save you money and may offer a wider variety of healthy options. In five to 10 minutes you can make a peanut butter and fruit sandwich on whole wheat, fill a container with whole-grain cereal, with separate containers of milk and fruit to combine at work, or grab dinner leftovers.

Deskfast can be a healthy solution for some people, replacing the doughnut and coffee in the car. For others, finding healthy choices or bringing them from home means starting the day with a hassle, when simply getting up 15 minutes earlier would allow a satisfying breakfast at home.

It’s worth considering research that suggests eating mindfully — focused on your food rather than work — may help to reduce stress and decrease your tendency to eat more and/or unhealthy foods later in the morning.

Karen Collins is a registered dietician with the American Institute for Cancer Research, the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk. It interprets scientific literature and educates the public about the results.