Office snack tables are often decorated with sweets from “well-meaning” coworkers. Vending machines are full of cheap, highly processed chips, candies, cookies, ready-made sandwiches and sugar-packed sodas.
Even those of us lucky enough to have a workplace-sponsored cafe have to fight reaching for the ubiquitous slice of pizza or burger and fries, and instead force our feet toward the salad bar.
But what if your employer had your back and offered fewer unhealthy options and smaller portion sizes?
“Our study suggests that making relatively simple changes to menus in workplace and other cafeterias could make an important contribution to tackling obesity,” said senior author Dame Theresa Marteau, director of the behavior and health research unit at the University of Cambridge, in a statement.
In what authors are calling the largest study of its kind, University of Cambridge researchers worked with 19 workplace cafeterias in the United Kingdom to change both the type and amount of foods they sold to over 20,000 manual labor workers during a six-month period.
First, the study team swapped bacon cheeseburgers and other high-calorie offerings with grilled chicken burgers and lower-calorie choices. For some of the higher-calorie items that stayed on the menu, the researchers reduced portion sizes by 14% — serving fewer fries, smaller portions of pasta, or fewer meatballs.
Both of these changes sliced calories sold by about 12%, saving the typical UK employee 50 calories a day.
“This study shows that reducing portion sizes and the availability of higher calorie options in cafeterias could make an important contribution to reducing excess calories,” he said.
Among some 5,600 workers, there was a 6.2% decrease in calories for each purchase over the two years. The biggest health benefit was in reducing the purchase of the least-healthy (red label) foods — that resulted in a 23% decrease in calories.
It works in schools, too
How to cut even more calories
- Watch the sugary drinks. “One 12-ounce (355 mL) regular soda has about 150 calories, and a 16-ounce (475 mL) flavored latte can pack 250 calories or more. Even fruit smoothies have lots of calories, as many as 400 in a 16-ounce (475 mL) serving.”
- Be ready for a snack attack with low-calorie options, such as grapes, a cube of cheese, or a handful of nuts with healthy fats.
- Substitute lower-calorie options, such as plain, nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Cut the fried food. Not only do fried foods clog your arteries with unhealthy fats, they are chock-full of calories.
- Stop drinking empty calories from alcohol. Did you know that some of those fruity drinks can contain up to 500 calories?
- Cut one high-calorie food each day. A glazed doughnut adds 250 calories, while an 8-ounce bag of potato chips adds a whopping 1,217.
- Cut processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, salami and other deli cold cuts, which are linked to cancer — and eat fruit as a side instead.
Add all those calorie cuts to a workplace where the portion sizes are smaller and fewer temptations lurk in vending machines, and you just might reach your weight loss and maintenance goals.
Oh — about all those tasty offerings brought to work from your coworkers’ kitchens? Sorry, you’ll have to face that alone.