What To Eat When

When I coach people on healthy eating, one of the things that they sometimes bring up is the idea that eating late in the evening isn’t great for health.  That’s absolutely true, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how time affects the health benefits or detriments of your eating.

How could time affect your eating choices?

Eating later in the evening is not the best thing to do, either in terms of the quality of your sleep, or in terms of digesting.  In particular, caffeinated drinks or foods (like chocolate), and sugary food more generally, won’t do you any favours.

Like your grandma may have told you, if you have to eat something at night, the best thing is warm milk.  Milk (and in fact any dairy: ie. cheese, eggs, and even chicken) contains a pre-cursor to melatonin (hydroxytryptophan), and so encourages sleep.  Having it warm is also soothing for your stomach.

Are there other ways you can optimise what you eat when?

Yes, there are!  If you want to have something sweet, the best time is for breakfast.  This may seem counter-intuitive.  Won’t you be setting yourself up for sugar cravings all day long?  Actually, eating sweet, sugary foods at breakfast time doesn’t seem to lead to cravings, and it’s also when they are digested best, as you have a whole day of activity ahead of you.

The second best time to eat something sweet is right before a workout.  So, if you know you’re about to do some exercise, and you really want a treat, go for it!

You might also ask yourself, what sweet treats can you have that are better for you?  Obviously, fresh fruit is better than anything with processed sugar.  And even “healthy” sweet alternatives (such as honey) may be no better than sugar in terms of calories.  Still, honey does have other health benefits, so you may want to include some in your sweet treat category of foods.  Another great thing here are dates (especially medjool dates).  These make a great, sweet treat, and are also good for you in terms of fibre, which helps with feelings of satiety, too.

What about protein?

Protein, whether from animals or from plants, is excellent for health.  For one thing, protein gives you a sense of satiety, helping beat cravings and stopping unhealthy snacking.  For another, it’s a necessary ingredient in building lean muscle, which burns calories.  However, there are huge debates on what kind of protein you should eat, how much, and when.

Research suggests it is best to have protein spread throughout the day, rather than just all at one meal.  So, try to find protein to add to your breakfast.  You could add an egg to your breakfast toast, or nuts to your cereal.

Another important thing to know is that the RDA’s (Recommended Daily Allowances) are set not for optimal health, but for the minimum amount required not to have a deficiecy.  In fact, studies show that most people benefit from having twice as much protein as given in their RDA!  So, don’t shy away from protein, it’s really important at a lot of levels.

As for the question of whether to have meat-based protein or plant-based protein, there are benefits and issues with both.

Red meat and cured meat may have downsides in terms of health, although on the up side animal-based protein provides a very easily accessible source of protein.  Meat sources of protein provide around 30% protein, and contain all the amino acids the human body needs.  However, they may also be fatty, and processed meat such as ham, is linked to carcinogenic effects.  Eggs provide about 12% protein, and fish will provide about 25% protein.

Plant-based protein requires a deal more thought, as only quinoa provides all the amino acids you need, and even then not at a huge rate.  For example, cooked quinoa is only about 4.5% protein, with 23% being carbohydrates.  Combining legumes (such as lentils – 9% protein) with rice will provide complete protein, and also has the benefit of a good deal of fibre.  This improves feelings of satiety, too.

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The Elements of Weightloss

Everyone has heard that weightloss is simply about eating less calories than you burn: balancing what you eat with how much you exercise.  So, how come it feels so complicated?

In reality, there are a lot of elements that affect weightloss.  Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones.

Food

All calories are not created equal.  We need a balance of different kinds of food in our diet: carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, and lots of micronutrients.  Studies show that the most important macronutrient in terms of feeling full is protein.  And wholegrains give you fibre and vitamins you won’t find in more processed carbohydrates.

When you eat matters as much as what you eat.  For example, eating late at night puts a strain on your system, so you don’t sleep as well, and you don’t process the calories as efficiently, either.  The best time to eat something sweet is either first thing in the morning, or after a workout.  And it’s best to have protein at every meal, maximising the satiety effect, as well as supporting your body’s rebuilding processes.

Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is great for burning calories, and for keeping your heart healthy.  This can be anything from walking to cycling, from a step class to aquafit, from kickboxing to dancing.  And remember that things like walking up stairs instead of using a lift, or getting off the bus a stop early, really do add up!  Guidelines recommend an average of half an hour a day.  However, you can do less if you do it at high intensity with short rests: high intensity interval training or HIIT is extremely effective.

Weight bearing exercise is vital for building and maintaining lean muscle mass, which is what burns calories.  It’s also vital for maintaining strong bones, especially important for women, but relevant to men, too, as you age.  Not everyone may enjoy lifting weights, but remember that weight bearing exercise doesn’t have to involve a gym or dumbells.  You can also use your own body weight, as you do in yoga.

Flexibility work keeps your muscles adaptable, and maximises their movement.  While a lot of stretching before a workout isn’t great, incorporating stretching into whatever you do, and especially stretching after your muscles are warm and have been worked is vital.

Perhaps the most important thing with exercise, though, is to find things that feel fun!  If you don’t enjoy it, you’re unlikely to stick with it.

Drink

You don’t always think about the calories in what you are drinking, but these can really add up.  And low cal drinks are often worse for you than “full fat”.  Studies show these encourage fat deposits to be laid down, as well as messing with your body’s sense of fullness, so low cal drinks encourage cravings!

Water is great, hydrating your body, and with no calories.  It isn’t the only answer, though.  Too much water can be a bad thing, washing micronutrients out of your body.  In terms of quenching thirst and making you feel fuller and more satisfied, water with a squeeze of citrus is the best.  Make it up fresh if you can, as most “mineral water with a touch of…” drinks contain either sugar or thosed dreaded artifical sweeteners!

The key word with alcohol is moderation.  While there may be some health benefits to a glass of wine, too much alcohol dehydrates you.  On top of that, when you drink you make worse choices…

Sleep

Not everyone considers how important sleep is to a healthy weight.  Studies link lack of sleep to weight gain.  Being tired encourages you to eat more, and particularly to reach for carbohydrates for the energy boost.

And there is a bit of a vicious circle here.  Being tired has you reaching for starchy foods, but eating starchy foods close to bedtime negatively affects your sleep.

Interestingly, the old idea about having milk before bed turns out to have a basis in science.  All dairy, in fact, contains a chemical which helps your body to make melatonin, the sleep chemical.  So, a warm, milk drink before bed will help your sleep.  If you don’t like milk, consider other ways you can include more dairy in your diet, or taking a supplement like 5-HTP or melatonin.