Wising up to food

While it’s most important for employers to provide employees with safe and healthy workplaces, it’s also important to encourage healthy lifestyles – starting with the food that’s consumed at work

Why should a workplace be concerned about healthy eating? When an employer can help employees to make wise food choices as part of a health programme, he or she can influence each employee’s long-term health and wellness.

Together, healthy eating and active living – combined with a positive outlook – can lead to reduced risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer; help to elevate mood, energy and self-esteem; reduce anxiety and stress; and improve productivity.

So, how do you start a healthy eating regime? While it’s most important for an employer to provide a safe and healthy workplace, it’s also important to encourage healthy lifestyles among employees. Healthy eating programmes can bring people together to learn how to improve wellness both at work and at home, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Realistically, though, the organisation points out that even if people are aware of the benefits, healthy diets are voluntary – not everyone will be interested. In this respect, the CCOHS suggests a survey of employees to help decide what type and level of eating programme to recommend.

CCOHS also points out that it would be wise to know the interests of your audience. In this case:

Establish why people are interested in following a healthy diet. Are participants looking for general information on nutrition, or more specific programmes such as heart health?

Be sure to consider what types of programmes have been offered in the past as well as which worked and which did not.

Know your target audience and decide whether your programme will be seasonal or annual.

Identify who people can go to if they have individual questions or want more information.

Generally, the CCOHS advises that healthy diet programmes should focus on eating at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day. “Choose vegetables and fruit prepared with little or no added fat, sugar or salt,” the organisation says in a statement. “Serve vegetables and fruit more often than juice. Make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day and choose products that are low in fat, sugar or salt.”

The organisation advocates fat-free or low-fat milk products. Similarly, meat alternatives such as beans and lentils are recommended, along with at least two servings of fish a week. If meat is on the menu, it is recommended that it should be lean and prepared with little or no added fat or salt. On the drinks side, water is recommended as the best thirst-quencher.

Does the workplace influence how people eat? Yes, says the CCOHS. “Always remember that the workplace environment influences the health of its employees. For example, if a healthy eating programme is offered, remember to look at where the employees eat their lunch. A safe and clean eating area is a requirement under most occupational health and safety laws.

“Beyond this, it is important to look at what is offered at vending machines and staff cafeterias. If you don’t look at the larger picture to see how the workplace itself influences the eating patterns of the employees, the programme will not work as well as it could,” the CCOHS explains.

In offering tips for snacks for employees to keep at work in their desk drawers or lockers, the CCOHS recommends whole-grain crackers, dried fruit, rice cakes, cereal and granola bars, adding that whole-grain bread, bran muffins, low-fat yoghurt, cottage cheese, fresh fruit, raw vegetables and salad greens should be stored in a workplace fridge designated for the purpose.

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