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Published on September 17, 2019

What’s not to like about free food? Plenty.

Workplace Food

Today it’s a pizza party at lunchtime. Tomorrow it’s a cake to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday. Seems like there’s always some free snacks and treats within reach.

Your wallet might like it, but your waistline probably won’t.

Nearly one in four employed adults snacked on foods and beverages at work at least once a week, according to a recent study. The foods tended to be high in calories, refined grains, added sugars and sodium. They added up to a weekly average of 1,292 calories – or the equivalent of a bit over half the daily calorie requirement for an adult male.

“Getting 1,200 calories of junk food is a lot of calories,” said Rachel Songer, a registered dietitian who works as a clinical dietitian at Cape Cod Hospital. “Added sugars and processed foods should be less than 10 percent of your calorie intake in a day.”

The study was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

With all those free tempting munchies in the workplace, how can you hold back?

It’s all about moderation and self-control, said Songer.

“It's okay to indulge occasionally, but if you're doing it day to day or even week to week, it can add up,” she said.

“You could try chewing some gum, brushing your teeth or using mouthwash before a gathering,” she said, “Once you have a nice minty flavor in your mouth, sometimes you don’t really want to eat anything.”

She also said that you can set a good model by bringing in healthier options to share. If it’s your turn to provide snacks for a breakfast meeting, stay away from the doughnut shop.

“You could bring in a fruit salad with some yogurt dip. For later in the day, try a vegetable platter with some dip or hummus or some cheese and crackers or trail mix.

“To get the healthiest foods, you have to prepare them yourself. You can make homemade healthy muffins or granola bars or oatmeal energy bites. It’s not as convenient as going to Dunkin’ Donuts, but it’s better for you and your workmates.”

There are even alternatives to yet another birthday cake. Pinterest, for example, has many examples of healthier homemade desserts, Songer said.

“You could make chocolate-covered bananas where you just do half of it dipped in dark chocolate. By combining fruit and just a little bit of sweets, you can still have a good celebration.”

If all else fails, bring in your own food to nibble on. Keeping a small stash of fruits and veggies handy isn’t as much fun as this week’s birthday cake, but your waistline will thank you.