Workplace Nutrition

Fruit and vegetables build a healthier workforce

img_8726Well workers are productive workers and making changes to what you eat during the day can not only be good for business but also builds a healthier workforce.

This is evidenced by less fatigue, irritability, stress and depression with more energy to concentrate and make better decisions.

Long-term health is also improved with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and premature death when fruit and vegetable intake exceeds 800g /day.

Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah looked at the productivity of 19,803 people working in three companies. They found that unhealthy eating was linked with a 66% increased risk of loss of productivity. Lack of exercise was linked to 50% risk of low productivity and smoking was linking to a 28% increase in loss of productivity.

Age was also a factor with researchers finding people aged 30-39 years had greater loss of productivity than those aged 60 years and over.

Of those employees who rarely ate fruit, vegetables and other low fat foods at work 93% were found to be more likely to have higher loss of productivity. In addition those workers who did not believe that their workplace environment could support them in becoming physically and emotionally healthier were more likely to have a drop in productivity.

This research was tested in a recent New Zealand survey conducted by 5+a Day. Researchers found:

72% of people surveyed agreed that eating a healthy lunch makes them feel more productive in the afternoon

64% of employees indicated that they would participate in a healthy eating challenge if this was organised by their employer

68% of employees agreed they would feel positively toward their employer if fresh fruit and vegetables were made available to them free of charge.

As a results of this research the 5+a Day team has come up with this list of recommendations:

  • Promote a healthy breakfast
  • Take every opportunity to include fresh fruit and vegetables into your day.
  • Include vegetables into dinner meals
  • If having dessert make it fruit based for better health
  • Find ways to include fruit and vegetable if you are snacking
  • If making lunches check out their ideas for boosting fruit and vegetables when filling sandwiches, wraps and pita pockets
  • Encourage children to eat and enjoy more fruit and vegetables so that everyone can become more productive in what they do.

Eating out at lunchtime

For those who prefer to eat their lunch out, there is a growing number of café’s eager to relieve you of your ‘lunch money’.

So what sort of cabinet food should you be choosing if you want to take advantage of these recommendations to increase fruit and vegetables while still topping up your fuel tank without gaining unnecessary weight?

Ideally you need a source of carbohydrate for energy and dietary fibre however this will only supply energy for ½ – 2 hours so you also need a source of low fat protein rich food. A serve of cheese, egg, fish, chicken or beans can keep you going for at least 3-4 hours. So lets see what’s out there.

Sandwiches and rolls

  • Opt for whole grain breads, particularly if using medium sliced bread, or thin varieties such as found in Panini’s, pita pockets or wraps. Large chunks of focaccia, soda, turkish and ciabatta breads might look like value for money but are usually based on white flour which is not energy sustaining and these breads are also higher in sodium.
  • Look for those combinations that offer lots of vegetables and contain fish, cheese, egg or chicken rather than meat, ham or bacon in an effort to keep saturated fat and sodium levels low.

Salads and vegetable dishes

  • Rice, pasta, quinoa and cous cous make a great base for salads but do go off in a day or two. So buy these types of salads only from busy cafes where there is a high turnover and you can be sure these grains are fresh.
  • Potato may not seem as trendy as grains but for the same number of calories is three times more satiating than pasta or rice. Equally a baked stuffed potato would be a much better choice than a pottle of fries.
  • Yellow, orange or red vegetables and fruits such as kumara, pumpkin, potato, oranges, capsicum, carrot, corn and tomato are often added to salads and are a good source of vitamin A important for eyesight and carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) believed to improve neural efficiency.
  • Beans, lentils, tofu and nuts are also good sources of protein if looking for a vegetarian option.
  • Mixed lettuce, kale and cabbage salads are a great source of vitamins and minerals such as folate, iron and Vitamin C which are linked to mood, memory and cognitive functioning. As these foods are low in energy they need to be accompanied with a protein food such as cheese or egg or beans if you are looking for sufficient energy to get you through the afternoon.
  • Corn fritters, roast vegetable stacks, baked stuffed potato, rice stuffed capsicum and eggplant, vegetable filled roularde, sushi and vegetable based lasagna are all ways in which vegetables can enhance a lunch time meal.

Pastry and baking

  • Traditional meat pies are a major source of saturated fat and salt.
  • Filo pastry, quiche and potato topped pies all make an effort to reduce the fat content but are still more calorific than bread based products such as sandwiches, wraps and filled rolls.
  • If serious about weight control swap the lamingtons, sausage rolls, croissants, cream buns, doughnuts and slices for muffins and scones…however mind the portion size. Large muffins based on cheese, chocolate, coconut or ham will still contain more saturated fat than those based on apple, carrot, banana or dried fruit.
  • Even healthy foods won’t protect you from excess weight gain if portion sizes get too big. So if out with a friend and portions are excessive you might consider sharing some of these foods.


  • While it might seem healthy to order a green smoothie or fruit juice with your lunch then think again. Pulverizing fruits and vegetables breaks down their natural fibre and concentrates their sugars.
  • The same goes for protein shakes. Adding protein powders, yoghurt and ice cream to milk drinks may sound the healthy thing to do but adds more saturated fat and calories than you might realize.
  • A healthier choice would be a trim latte or a milk shake made just with trim milk berries, banana and ice.
  • Use your lunch time as a way of boosting your hydration. Extra free glasses of water may make you pee more but will also help to distribute all the energy from your lunch to your brain and muscles for a productive afternoon of work.

How to build a healthier workplace

If you would like to improve the food served in your workplace cafeteria there are lots of ways you can bring about change:

  • Encourage your HR department to run a food satisfaction survey for staff of the cafeteria services to see what others think.
  • Take a look at food waste on plates and bins out the back. Kitchens that serve us well are those that manage their resources with care, not only providing healthier meals but also a healthier environment.
  • Check out the Heart Foundations website for programs and resources. Their hospitality hub show how restaurants and cafes can prepare healthy food with wider choice for adults and children at school and work.
  • Look at ways you can increase your activity throughout the day so that you increase the standing with less sitting. Companies that offer gym memberships or encourage group sporting activities not only strengthen the health of their staff but also encourage team building activities.

Talk to us if you would like an official review of your catering services or to arrange a wellness seminar for staff. You’ll soon notice that time and effort spent on nutrition education in the workplace is quickly repaid with increased productivity, happier staff and less days lost to sick leave.

For more information read other articles by Lea on this subject:

Mind your health when working online
Driving for a living? 10 tips to help your weight control
Put sports nutrition to work
Energy boost for business travel

Available References:

Hollingshead T. Poor employee health means slacking on the job, business losses. BYU News Aug 19 2012

5+a Day Resources

Adult obesity facts. (2015, September 21). Retrieved from

Conner, T. S., Brookie, K. L., Richardson, A. C., & Polak, M. A. (2015, May). On carrots and curiosity: Eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life. [Abstract]. British Journal of Health

Friedman, R. (2014, October 17). What you eat affects your productivity. Retrieved from

Jensen, D. J. (2011, July). Can work site nutritional interventions improve productivity and firm profitability? [Abstract]. Perspectives in Public Health, 131(4), 184-192.

Lindbergh C, Mewborn C, Hammond B, Renzi-Hammond L. Relationship of lutein and zeaxanthin levels to neurological function: A fMRI study of older adults. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2017 Jan;23(1):11-22

Dagfinn A, Giovannucci E, Bafetta P, Fadnes L, Keum N, Norat T, Greenwood D,  Riboli E, Vatten L, Tonstad S. Fruit and vegetables intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all cause mortality a systematic review and dose response meta analysis of prospective studies. Int J Epidemiol. 22 Feb 2017

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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