By Kanika Varma, associate professor, University of Rajasthan teaching & practicing nutrition with a passion
What to eat? How much to eat? We all have grappled with these eternal questions in our pursuit of that ever-elusive ideal body weight. Here comes another tricky one:
When to eat?
You may have heard about the human body having its own internal biological clock. Well, the clock exists. It is determined by your circadian rhythms and regulates your body's vital functions. Most enzymes, gut, hormones, even cells in your body, follow this clock.
And eating in harmony with this body clock, your circadian rhythm, is essential to optimize your metabolic balance, which in turn is essential for weight management.
The human brain has a master circadian rhythm centre that is regulated by exposure to bright light. When you wake up and get exposed to daylight, it kick starts your body in a precise manner that keeps your metabolism working in the right equilibrium and tempo.
While sleep patterns are critical in keeping the circadian rhythm on the right track, eating right meals at the right time too is a decisive element in regulating the body clock. You need to feast (wisely) during daylight and fast (in the correct manner) during the dark hours to stay in sync with your rhythm and boost metabolism.
The eating pattern through the day too needs to be structured in line with your internal clock. Given here is a broad guide that you could follow to ensure you are eating in the right way, at the right time.
Let's start with the morning.
Hopefully, you have got up refreshed and have had a healthy bowel movement to flush out the previous day's toxins. Your body is charged with adrenaline to support the morning rush, and the gut is ready to take and process the food to nourish the body and the brain for the day's routine.
This is your perfect meal window. Typically it lasts for about an hour after waking up. So make sure you get in a hearty mixed meal, one that includes both healthy carbohydrates and proteins, within that hour.
Feel intimidated by the idea of eating a full-blown breakfast? Just remember that this is probably the best time to get in those oh-so-satisfying carbs. Sensitivity to insulin is best in the mornings, which means that our system can utilize sugars from carbohydrates most effectively in the early hours of the day.
Cereal-based dishes and fruits, along with some protein-rich food, are great breakfast options. You could opt for cereals such as poha, upma, dalia, oats, quinoa or whole wheat bread. Do steer clear of sweetened breakfast cereals (healthy carbohydrates only).
Fruits should be seasonal and local, preferably berries or citrus fruits which provide Vitamin C and antioxidants. Items such as milk, yoghurt, sprouts, paneer, and eggs could add the protein element.
Now comes the midday meal.
The metabolism is still fired up so you can afford to have a meal complete with five foods –
- Cereals: wholegrain or unrefined
- Beans and legumes: whole dals rather than split ones, beans like rajma, chana, and soybean
- Curd/yoghurt, in form of raita/chaach
- Salad; fresh, organic and lightly seasoned with lemon and herbs
- Vegetables; coloured vegetables- green, yellow and red.
The evening is when things start slowing down.
Digestion, insulin-sensitivity, metabolism; everything is sluggish. Naturally then, eating late-night meals will cause problems.
What you eat at dinner is crucial too. Since insulin-sensitivity is low in the evening, eating high carbohydrate foods at night, throws your metabolism out of gear. Carbohydrate-rich food at dinnertime leads to unhealthy levels of blood sugar resulting in compensatory insulin levels, which, in turn, are linked with weight gain and obesity.
So stick to a light, early dinner. Soups made with seasonal vegetables, or light cereal preparations, such as barley, accompanied with green salads are good dinner options.
Some other points to remember:
- Keep a gap between two meals, but not too long a gap.
- Snack in between meals. Have fruits, nuts or smoothies or chaach.
- While snacking is recommended, keep a check on the frequency. Snacking too frequently, or small nibbles close to bedtime, are not a good idea.
- Avoid erratic, irregular meals. Your body's physiology works better when it knows what to expect - when it has to digest food; when it has to process food; and when the gut can take some much-needed rest.
- Try to allow at least two hours between dinner and bedtime.
None of these rules are cast in stone. But do remember the more you ignore your body clock, the more challenging it becomes for your body to get back to its natural rhythm. And if this disturbance goes on for a long time, it leads to chronic health problems, weight gain, and metabolic issues.
So eat healthy and eat at the right time. You will be able to reboot your metabolism, supercharge energy and lose weight naturally.