THERE’S a good reason the word wizards took the phrase ‘dining al fresco’ and turned it into the rather ugly ‘dining al desko’ — an estimated 63% of Irish workers eat lunch at their desks.
But wolfing down a sandwich in front of the computer is not only bad for your health, eating lunch while checking your emails is also more likely to make you fat.
In a 2013 study, British diet company Forza Supplements found that people tend to make less healthy choices when they eat at their desks — processed foods ingested by the plastic forkful — and to make more trips to the vending machine or shop during the day. Chocolate for the afternoon slump, anyone?
Part of the problem, explains dietician Elaine McGowan, is that we are eating in a distracted rather than a mindful way.
“If you are doing something else while having your lunch, like surfing the internet or checking your inbox, your body doesn’t fully register how much you are eating and it’s easy to overeat or not to feel fully satisfied,” she says.
People who often don’t eat an adequate breakfast can make poor choices at lunch and that can lead to snacking and bad food choices throughout the day, she points out.
“Constant grazing is only relevant if you are playing rugby for Ireland,” she says.
Eating quickly and on the run can also lead to digestive problems.
McGowan has seen a sharp increase in the numbers seeking help for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in her clinics in Dublin, Limerick and Clare.
An estimated 30% of the population will experience digestive discomfort at some point in their lives.
She has introduced more than 2,000 patients to the low FODMAPS diet, a scientifically proven diet that has identified certain molecules in food that irritate the gut.
By cutting out certain foods — onions and garlic are the big offenders — and limiting others, the diet has helped improve symptoms in an impressive 75% of cases.
But McGowan also stresses that how people consume their food is also vital to ensure good gut health.
She comes back to mindfulness again, explaining that gulping food in front of the TV is not good for the body.
“Try to make sure that you are tasting every bite. That way your body will feel satisfied and full at the end of each meal,” she says.
There are lots of other steps that can enhance digestive health, according to Dr Eileen Murphy, research director at Alimentary Health.
Eating a varied diet, taking exercise and including a supplement to increase the healthy bacteria in the gut will all help, she says.
Alimentary Health, which makes Alflorex, a once-daily PrecisionBiotic supplement, has also produced the Good Gut Health Guide to help improve digestive health.
One of its first recommendations is to sit down comfortably to eat and to chew your food properly. But that is not all that is needed. For good gut health, also consider the following:
De-stress: Stress reduces secretory IgA (sIgA) which is found in large quantities in the gut and acts as part of our immune system’s first line of defence. It also discourages ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut. Make sure to take time to relax.
Fibre: Fibre encourages beneficial bacteria and helps speedy elimination of waste from the body. But easy does it — the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may need some time to adjust to an increased fibre intake and fibre may not improve IBS symptoms for everyone.
Hydrate: Drink up to two litres of water a day, but limit fizzy drinks.
Limit alcohol to less than two units a day and caffeine to less than three cups of coffee a day.
Exercise: Get things moving, and preferably away from the desk at lunchtime.
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