The OECD says the average British worker spends 36.3 hours a week at work. It means a majority of our lifetime is spent at work or working. However, it is also probably the place where we ignore meals and eat less healthy the most. Yet, it is the place where we need to be our healthiest to use 100% of our concentration, cognition, and agility. Choosing to eat well at work is a practical life choice with positive outcomes, and these healthy protein lunch ideas are ready to shake up what is otherwise a neglected routine.
What are the benefits of protein-rich food?
Proteins are nitrogen-containing substances formed by amino acids. Twenty amino acids are required for human growth and metabolism. Twelve of these in adults and eleven in children are called non-essential as they can be synthesised by the body without being consumed in the diet. The remaining amino acids are called essential because they cannot be synthesised by the body and should be consumed in the diet. The absence of any of these amino acids will compromise our health.
Without protein, our body cannot build and repair muscles and bones or make hormones and enzymes. Protein is also the body’s primary source of energy.
Studies have indicated that high protein diets are metabolically advantageous. Metabolism is essential to burning fat. Our body uses calories to digest food which increases the metabolic rate, and it is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Protein has a much higher thermic effect (20%–35%) than fat or carbs (5%–15%). Some studies record even a higher rate of energy expenditure, equivalent to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise.
These diets can also spare the lean body mass during weight loss, promote weight management, enhance glycemic regulation, and increase intestinal calcium absorption resulting in improved bone health. Eating more protein helps you maintain bone mass better as you age and have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Contrary to what most believe, protein can lower blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major cause of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes. Elevated BP can also become a risk factor for kidney disease.
Protein is the most filling of the three macronutrients: fats, carbs, and protein. By reducing the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and boosting the levels of peptide YY, protein can make you feel full with less food. If you need to lose weight or belly fat, consider replacing some of the carbs and fats with protein in your diet. It can have you eating fewer calories without intentionally restricting food intake. A higher protein intake plays a key role in energy balance.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in meat are important in muscle recovery. Leucine in BCAAs stimulates protein synthesis in muscle and helps repair after exercise or injury.
While the average British person gets enough protein from the basic British diet (meat and veg), getting healthier protein takes a bit of consideration. Not all protein is made alike; some are cleaner, leaner, and better for the body. High-protein, low-fat, and low-calorie (energy-restricted) diets are the most beneficial. A healthy, protein-rich diet needs a good mix of vegetables, whole grains, and fresh fruit.
UK’s current recommended protein Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for adults over 19 years of age is 0.75g per kg of body weight per day (56g/day for men and 45g/day for women depending on body weight). However, recent research shows higher intakes are better for the elderly to maintain muscle mass and muscle function.
Protein lunches for work
Energy spike and crash? You don’t want that at work. Eating a protein-rich lunch helps keep your blood sugar steady. It is a long-term energy source and will see you through to the end of the day comfortably. Protein takes more energy to digest than refined carbohydrates, keeping you satiated, so there’s no need to disturb the candy drawer to satisfy unsolicited cravings.
Protein raises levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals necessary for improving mood, motivation, and concentration. Brain serotonin synthesis also depends on the concentrations of TRP, an amino acid found in protein. Serotonin is a natural mood stabiliser.
If you are doing manual labour, protein is especially essential to your diet. Amino acids in protein are the building blocks of muscles, bones, and tissues. They help maintain your muscle mass and prevent long-term fatigue by helping the body to repair and build muscles and tissues. By contributing to normal energy levels, protein keeps the body functioning optimally and supports an active lifestyle. The stronger our muscles, the more likely we are to work harder and faster. Without enough protein, our energy levels will not be adequate for a full day’s work.
Include unsaturated or monounsaturated fat and fibre along with protein in the diet. Fibre makes you feel satiated right away, protein helps you stay full for longer, and fat works with the hormones in the body to tell you to stop eating.
Healthful sources of protein are wholesome to eat and prevent the negatives that come with fatty and processed meats.
Lean protein from white meat poultry such as chicken is a healthy source of animal protein. The breast of the chicken has the most protein by weight and less fat. Cuts like the thigh, drumstick, and wings have more calories and fat. Grilled chicken has low amounts of unsaturated fats compared to deep-fried, roasted, and stir-fried chicken.
Chicken also contains Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Phosphorus, Niacin, and Selenium. Niacin helps protect against neurodegenerative diseases and plays a key role in energy production & DNA synthesis. Vitamins B6 &B12, along with niacin, support metabolism. Selenium improves the immune system, thyroid health, and fertility.
Fish and seafood are high in protein and usually low in fat. Salmon provides a good amount of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. 100 grams of salmon contain 22–25 grams of protein. Salmon is one of the top sources of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA contribute to a healthy heart by lowering cholesterol. These also help maintain healthy skin, joints, and hormonal balance. They may also protect us against some cancers, asthma, high blood pressure, macular degeneration, and rheumatoid arthritis.
If you want high-quality plant-based protein, soy is one of the best choices out there. Unlike other plant proteins, soy protein is considered a complete protein as all nine essential amino acids are present in the soybean. Edamame, soy sprouts, and soy-based foods such as tofu and miso are rich in protein. If you are dairy intolerant and cannot take protein from dairy foods, soy milk and soy milk-based foods can fill that protein gap.
Soy foods are also rich in B vitamins, fibre, potassium, magnesium, iron, molybdenum, Vitamin K1, folate, copper, phosphorus, and thiamine. The soybean is low in saturated fat and is cholesterol-free. It is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens.
Soy can also lower blood pressure, improve blood vessels (elasticity of artery walls), enhance bone health, protect against breast cancer & prostate cancer, and boost cognitive function & visual memory.
Beans and legumes
Soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, red beans, chickpea, mung beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of protein. Beans and legumes are high in B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and polyunsaturated & monounsaturated fatty acids, including linoleic and oleic acids. Their low glycemic index and slow-digesting resistant starch benefit in the prevention of diabetes.
Legume fibre acts as a prebiotic in your gut for beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria. These support normal bowel function and may reduce cancer-causing compounds. Short-chain fatty acids created during fermentation by bacteria are associated with the prevention of colorectal cancer.
The average egg contains 6–7 grams of protein. The yolk contains about half of the protein, and there are 150 different kinds of proteins in the egg white. Eggs are low in calories and offer a range of vitamins and minerals, including iron, folate, vitamins B12, A, D & E, lutein, zeaxanthin, and selenium. Eggs also contain the essential nutrient choline, which plays a role in metabolism, gene expression, and brain development.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are helpful sources of protein that need little to no preparation. They contain healthy unsaturated fats, fibre, plenty of B vitamins, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, potassium, plant iron, zinc, and ALA omega-3 fatty acid. An ounce or a quarter of a cup of nuts contains anywhere from 3 to 7 grams of protein. Seeds have about 5 to 9 grams of protein per ounce, healthy fats, and fibre.
Healthy protein lunch ideas for work
Give your chicken sandwich a rest and start a novel protein quest.
Office lunches do not always need to come in boxes. Other shapes work too. Protein bowls are easy, minimum hassle to eat, and loaded with ingredients. Add brown rice for the base or udon noodles for a hearty bite, and top it up with slices of marinated chicken breast, fresh & steamed veg, and a scattering of herbs & nuts. You will be munching away happily with thanks from your tummy. You can also add a fillet of sustainable salmon to sit with veg and some avocado. For vegan and vegetarian versions, substitute the meat with tofu, beans, meatless meat, or a poached egg. For even lighter calories, increase portions of veg, greens, and seeds to go with marinated pieces of chicken.
Add nuts, dried fruit, vegetable puree, peanut butter, honey, fruit syrups, and molasses to whip up a batch of protein bars. Raspberries are relatively high in protein. You can add protein powder as well. No need for a Twix fix; these will keep you perky and alert all through the day.
Salads are our go-to healthy food. But they can be so much more. Make them a superfood medley by adding high-quality proteins like chicken breast, salmon, or tofu. Use sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Do not forget edamame for some bite and protein richness. Try different dressings like teriyaki, sesame, and Ssamjang & Gochujang sauce.
Sushi and sashimi
These may not have a repute for being protein-rich, but Atlantic salmon sushi and sashimi are full of nutritional value when you want some sushi in the mix when you want high protein lunch ideas. You will be eating one of the most protein-packed fish in style without even realising that you are getting your protein RNI. You can make these at home with prime cuts of fresh salmon fillets and start the bento box craze in the office or order from a sustainable sushi restaurant near you.
Protein is a key macronutrient we can’t do without. While there are many ways to include protein into our diet, it’s important to do it properly. Balancing out our protein intake with a variety of macro and micro nutrients and eliminating refined carbs, bad fats, and sugar can keep us healthy and happy while we work. Itsu Asian-style Meatless Farm meatballs in a wholegrain brown rice bowl with seasonal greens and drizzled Ssamjang & teriyaki sauce are all about vegan protein you can order for lunch at work.