My advice for those looking to have an energised and productive afternoon

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Apparently, it’s 30 years ago that Marks and Spencer (a UK-based food, clothing and home goods retailer) started selling pre-prepared sandwiches. Other retail outlets followed suit, and the end result is that sandwiches now are the prime lunch fodder for workers up and down the land. But do they represent prime fuel for those with jobs to do? Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t think so.

Sandwiches may be tasty (often) and convenient, but the problem for me is that they’re based on bread. To my mind, there are two fundamental issues with this food.

The first is that bread, even wholemeal bread, tends to release sugar relatively quickly into the bloodstream. The peak of sugar this produces can provoke a flood of insulin from the pancreas. This works to lower blood sugar levels, but a surge of this hormone can lead to lower-than-normal levels of sugar. As a result, brain and body energy levels can flag in the mid-late afternoon. And this tends to coincide with a natural lull in the body’s alertness and energy levels at this time. The end result is commonly reduced effectiveness. Some can struggle to even stay awake.

Another symptom of low blood sugar is hunger – usually for sugary foods such as chocolate or confectionery. The reason that some find themselves irresistibly drawn to such foods in the mid-late afternoon seems often linked to the sandwich they eat at lunch.

That surge of insulin after a sandwich has long-term implications too, as excesses of insulin predispose to a range of issues including weight gain, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The odd sarnie for lunch is unlikely to be too much of a issue. But the reality is that many individuals eat this food lunch after lunch, week after week and month after month… As a result, problems can mount up over time.

The other major problem with bread is that wheat – its usual major constituent – is a common cause of food sensitivity. Wheat sensitivity can manifest in any number of ways but perhaps the two most common manifestations are abdominal bloating/discomfort (wheat is a common provoking factor in irritable bowel syndrome, in my experience) and fatigue. For many people, eating wheat sucks the life out of them.

There’s not been any research, to my knowledge, on the impact of sandwich-eating at lunch on productivity. Nevertheless, my experience with countless individuals leads me to conclude that if someone is aiming to have a productive, energised afternoon, sandwiches make a far from ideal lunchtime food.

Alternatives include a hot ‘primal’ meal (e.g. meat or fish plus vegetables), salad or soup (preferably with meat in, to add sustenance and nutritional value).

I’ve met a lot of people who initially balk at the idea of not eating sandwiches at lunch. The usual problem here relates to hunger: many people allow themselves to get starving hungry before lunch, at which point eating bread becomes almost irresistible. Those wishing to give sandwiches a miss at lunch generally do well to make sure they are not famished at this time. A decent breakfast, perhaps with some nuts in the mid-late morning, will usually do the trick in this respect.

Another common complaint is that soup or salad will not ‘last’ until supper. The truth is, sandwiches do not tend to last either. However, the fact that soup and/or salad will only quell hunger until the late afternoon or early evening need not be an issue – there’s no reason to avoid a healthy snack at this time to tide someone over to supper.

I’ve witnessed over time what happens when individuals ditch sandwiches for lunch and switch to something more ‘primal’: almost without exception they note tangible and lasting improvement in their energy and effectiveness, in the workplace or out.

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