Sports & Recreation


Brown Bag Lunches Can Improve Healthy Eating

By Jennifer Jimenez
Au-Authm Action News

On June 2, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled My Plate, the government’s new healthy-eating symbol. The new symbol is a circle designed to look like a dinner plate, divided into four sections. Two of the sections represent fruits and vegetables, one represents grains, and one represents protein. There is also a small circle out to the side, meant to represent low-fat dairy such as a glass of milk or cup of yogurt. Additional nutrition information can be found at

A healthy lunch should follow the My Plate guidelines. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Wellness Coordinator Andy Weiler said that brown-bag lunches can be a great strategy for healthy eating.

Daily calorie requirements range from 1,600 to 2,400 calories for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories for adult men. “It is a good idea to know your estimated calorie requirements when planning your diet. Get your personal daily calorie limit at and keep that number in mind when deciding what to eat.

If you plan to eat three meals and a snack or two a day, then it’s a matter of simple math,” Weiler said. Say an adult male needs 2,400 calories per day and plans to eat three meals and two snacks. Two 150-calorie snacks total 300 calories, leaving 2,100 calories for the rest of the day, which can be divided into three meals at 700 calories each. “That means lunch shouldn’t exceed 700 calories. And yes, calories from beverages count. So having an idea of the calories you need in your lunch answers the question ‘How much food should I pack?’”

Lunch should represent about a quarter of your daily calorie and nutrient intake, Weiler said. “An excellent brown bag lunch should be 400 to 700 calories, provide one or more servings of fruits and vegetables, a 3- to 5-ounce serving of a lean protein, and a serving or two of whole grains, such as whole-grain bread or crackers. Lean dairy products such as string cheese and yogurt are also good choices.”

Nutrient-dense foods contribute a lot of nutrition: carbohydrates (including sugar and fiber), protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. All of these are important to maintain the body’s daily function. But eating a reasonable volume of food is one key to feeling satisfied after your meal, which is referred to as “satiety” in dietary terms.

When dietitians and other health professionals estimate the energy content of food, common estimates are 4 calories per gram for carbohydrate, 4 calories per gram for protein, and 9 calories per gram for fat. In general, foods that are higher in volume have a large water, and fiber content and a low fat content. Prime examples of this are fruits and vegetables. This is one reason why a low-fat diet tends to be lower in calories than a low-carbohydrate diet for the same volume of food.

In addition to being higher in calories per gram, certain types of dietary fat are associated with cardiovascular diseases and cancers. This is why lean, low-fat proteins are considered a better choice. Good sources are skinless poultry and fish such as tuna, lean sandwich meats, rice and beans, nuts and peanut butter. Plant-based sources of protein almost always provide unsaturated sources of fat and no cholesterol.

“In general, we can all benefit from eating whole foods, and avoid an abundance of simple sugars and starches added to common foods in processing. This processing tends to eliminate fiber and adds calories with little added nutrients,” Weiler said.

“Interestingly, over the past several years I have asked college students taking a healthful living course to name three examples of high-carbohydrate, processed foods,” Weiler said. “Overwhelmingly, students name food items which have more calories from fat than from carbohydrates. Potato chips, pastries and cookies, and candy bars are some of the most common answers, and all these foods have more calories contributed from fat than from carbohydrate.”

The best sources of carbohydrate in lunches are fruits and vegetables in season; choose from a wide array of colors. “Just as variety in our diet helps provide nutritional adequacy, so does variety in our fruits and vegetables. The apple needs to be rinsed and the banana peeled, but they come ready to go, stable for the most part and in their own packaging. Mini bell peppers, carrots, grapes, and even packaged fruit are easy additions to the brown bag that are fine examples of nutrient-dense/low-calorie foods,” Weiler said.

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