This article is for all of you who despite your best intentions, are forced to choose from the fast-food joints around your office during lunch hour!

It is a reality for many of us that, in the midst of a crazy day with back-to-back meetings or calls and perhaps a deadline for a client, taking time to eat a nutritious and healthy lunch is more idealistic than realistic.  Lunchtime looks more like the Hunger Games race toward the cornucopia rather than a moment to relax and enjoy good food.   

For many of us, the lunch hour at the office often means choosing from fast-food joints nearby. Although fast food options have come a long way, the lines are usually larger at rather questionable spots (if you haven’t noticed, pay attention next time you are in the food court).

Talking about food is complicated.  Views on food have lately become rather religious.  However, amidst the ongoing diet debates like Keto, Vegan, Paleo, and Carnivore, one consensus emerges: avoiding Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs) is crucial for our health. 

What exactly are UPFs?

UPF is a term coined by scientist Carlos Monteiro in Brazil, who as indicated by Prof. Tim Spector in his book Food for Life, “noticed that although the amount of sugar and salt purchased by consumers was decreasing, the amount of sugar and salt consumed was increasing, which was due to the increased consumption of industrialized food”.

UPFs refer to highly processed foods with little to no whole food content. They are typically ready-to-eat, high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and salts while lacking in dietary fiber, essential nutrients, and natural goodness. These processed products are akin to chemical experiments rather than real food.

Do UPFs have an impact on our health?

Medical experts, researchers, and nutritional scientists widely agree that the increased consumption of UPFs is a key factor in the rising prevalence of chronic diseases like cardiovascular issues, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.   And while food choices may not be the only cause, it certainly has an impact.  One that we could potentially minimize.

Navigating Lunch Options

There is no way we are going to turn back time and eat as our ancestors did.   Not everyone has access to farm-fresh food.  Therefore, it is always about considering the better option. Never the perfect option.   UPFs are here to stay and eating it on rare occasions is not the problem.  It is a problem when it becomes the go-to option.

While we may wish for an ideal world where we control every bite, the reality is that fast-food joints often offer quick and convenient options. When faced with limited choices, it’s crucial to seek the “better” option rather than perfection. Here are some tips to make healthier decisions next time you are in a nearby food court.

Choose Whole or Slightly Processed Foods:

Opt for options like carrots with hummus or fruit with nut butter over packaged ultra-processed “protein” bars, for instance.

Check Ingredient Lists:

If going for the packaged item, select those with five or fewer recognizable ingredients. If you can’t understand what’s listed, your body won’t understand it either.

Salads with Dressing on the Side:

A salad is always a good option.  Ask for the dressing on the side and choose those that are oil-based rather than cream-based (balsamic over ranch, for instance).  Again, is choosing the better option, not the perfect option.

Be Skeptical of Health Claims:

Don’t be swayed by health claims on packaging; focus on understanding the ingredients.  “High in Fiber” is great but carrots and apples have tons of fiber and no health claim or packaging for that matter. 

Explore Salad Bars:

When available, salad bars offer the chance to mix and match identifiable ingredients.

Walk the Extra Mile for Better Options:

Fast-food joints have come a long way and these days we can find amazing places offering “better” options.  Sometimes this comes at a price that involves cost and time.  They are perhaps pricier and they may not be as close as you need them to be.   But you can see it differently: you are paying a little more to protect your health (physical and mental) and you are walking a few extra minutes which can become one of your movement snacks for the day.

Eat for Productivity

While pizza, burgers, saucy chicken and rice, and mac and cheese sound very attractive, remember that if you are in a rush to get back to the office to continue with your work, you want to opt for the “easier-to-digest” option. Keep in mind that easily digestible options are preferable during work hours, as heavy meals can reduce alertness and focus.


Making healthier food choices amidst fast-food options is a challenge many of us face. Remember to avoid UPFs and prioritize whole or minimally processed foods. By being mindful of what you eat, you can make better choices for both your physical and mental well-being. There’s no need to chase perfection!

Enjoy your lunch!