Most of us can tell the difference between foods that are good for us and those so empty in nutritional value that they are simply on a fast track to our hips.
But evidence is emerging that when we eat can be as important as what we eat. Irregular meal times are thought to contribute to high blood pressure and obesity – so much so that two papers in the Proceedings Of The Nutrition Society suggested that advice on when to consume meals should be included in national dietary guidelines.
Evidence is emerging that when we eat can be as important as what we eat. Irregular meal times are thought to contribute to high blood pressure and obesity
So what should we be eating and drinking – and at what time – to look, feel and function at our best?
You might crave a caffeine hit the moment you open your eyes, but what your brain needs is water.
‘Your brain is made up of 74 per cent water and needs rehydrating as soon as you wake up or you risk feeling foggy and finding it difficult to concentrate,’ says nutritionist Kamilla Schaffner.
TOP TIP: A 250ml glass of water with a squeeze of lemon will shift toxins in the liver if you drank alcohol the night before and give you a vitamin C boost.
8AM: BREAKFAST OF PORRIDGE
Load up on carbohydrates. Research suggests that levels of insulin, the hormone that converts carbohydrate into energy, fall throughout the day.
‘The earlier you eat carbs the better, so you’ll have time to burn off their energy before you go to bed and they are stored as fat,’ says Schaffner. ‘Oats in porridge contain fibre and release energy slowly throughout the morning.’
TOP TIP: Mix 100g Greek yogurt with 250g rolled oats and 150ml of milk and pop it in the fridge overnight. Eat cold in the morning.
A Thermos Stainless King flask (thermos.co.uk, from £22.95) keeps drinks warm for 12 hours
Switch on the kettle before your computer. ‘Caffeine releases adrenaline – the hormone that makes us more alert – into our bloodstream,’ says nutritionist Rick Hay. ‘It also increases blood circulation to your brain, which can improve concentration.’
Eat breakfast first. ‘Never drink coffee on an empty stomach or you risk overloading your central nervous system with caffeine, which could make you jittery,’ says Schaffner.
TOP TIP: A Thermos Stainless King flask (thermos.co.uk, from £22.95) keeps drinks warm for 12 hours.
10AM: PUMPKIN SEEDS
Eat Natural dates, walnuts & pumpkin seeds bar, 99p, supermarkets
A handful of pumpkin seeds could save you being tempted by biscuits. Packed with zinc and B vitamin biotin to keep skin and hair healthy, they also contain omega-6 linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid believed to help ease symptoms of the menopause.
‘Eat these before midday,’ says Schaffner. ‘Fats also need to be burnt off before bed if you want to avoid weight gain.’
TOP TIP: Eat Natural dates, walnuts & pumpkin seeds bar, 99p, supermarkets.
As the stresses of the working day kick in, blood pressure can rise. ‘Celery contains potassium – a mineral that helps lower sodium levels, which are a sign of high blood pressure and stress,’ says Hay. ‘Plus it’s a great source of fibre to help digestion, and with only six calories a stick it won’t ruin your appetite.’
TOP TIP: Eat with peanut butter, which contains healthy fats.
12-1PM: LUNCH OF SALMON SALAD
Salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids that improve cognition, alertness and memory
A protein-based lunch will give you more energy than a white bread sandwich, which contains simple carbohydrates and will cause a blood sugar spike before a crash that leaves you feeling tired. ‘Salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids that improve cognition, alertness and memory,’ says sports scientist Kate McTaggart.
While salad is essential to our diet, Schaffner says it’s best eaten in the middle of the day.
‘Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are a great source of fibre and vitamins, but eat them between midday and 2.30pm when your metabolic rate is highest.
‘After the age of 30, hydrochloric (stomach) acid starts to decline, making it difficult for the digestive system to metabolise raw fibre, leaving us potentially bloated.’
TOP TIP: Drizzle with balsamic vinegar to improve digestion.
Blueberries have a low glycemic index, meaning they are absorbed slowly and don’t lead to a sudden spike in blood sugar levels
A healthy option if you fancy something sweet after lunch – but not too soon afterwards.
‘Never eat fruit straight after lunch as it will start fermenting before your main meal, leading to indigestion,’ says Schaffner.
‘One handful of blueberries 30 to 40 minutes later is a fantastic option as they’re high in lutein – an antioxidant that protects eyes and skin.’
Blueberries have a low glycemic index, meaning they are absorbed slowly and don’t lead to a sudden spike in blood sugar levels.
TOP TIP: Supermarkets discount frozen fruit on Sundays, so buy a few packs for your freezer.
Fructose in a banana is converted into glucose by the liver and gives you a buzz
Your body needs sugar to keep energy up (and spirits high) – and now is the best time.
‘At this time of day, our levels of cortisol – the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that keeps us energised – slump,’ says Schaffner. ‘Fructose in a banana is converted into glucose by the liver and gives you a buzz.’
TOP TIP: Don’t store them in the fridge. At a cold temperature, the enzymes that enable them to ripen are inhibited – causing the skin to blacken.
4PM: BEETROOT AND GINGER SMOOTHIE
This will boost energy at the end of the working day. Beetroot and ginger are vasodilators, so they open up blood vessels. ‘This allows more blood to travel to your brain, boosting concentration,’ says Hay. Ginger can also suppress appetite.
TOP TIP: Blitz a knob of ginger and beetroot with a handful of ice, an apple and beetroot juice.
5PM: DRIED FRUIT
If you’re heading to the gym on your way home, have a snack an hour before. Workouts on an empty stomach risk muscle being broken down and converted into glucose to fuel your body. ‘Dried fruit provides simple carbohydrates or sugars for an immediate energy burst, while protein in almonds will give you a slower energy release,’ says Hay.
TOP TIP: Choose raw, rather than roasted, nuts.
Hops have a calming effect, making a swig of beer a good way to unwind. ‘One glass is enough,’ says Schaffner.
TOP TIP: Budweiser Select has only 55 calories per bottle.
7PM: STARTER OF ASPARAGUS
Asparagus is high in vitamin E, which has been found to improve women’s sex drive
Asparagus is high in vitamin E, which ‘has been found to improve women’s sex drive’, says nutritionist Laura Southern from London Food Therapy.
Asparagus also contains compounds called steroidal glycosides, believed to promote sex hormones, and is a good source of folate, a B vitamin that boosts reproductive health.
TOP TIP: Steam or, for a smoky taste, cook on a griddle pan.
8-9PM: MAIN COURSE OF TURKEY WITH BEANS
Containing only 1g of fat per ounce of flesh, turkey is high in protein to regenerate muscles. ‘It also contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid that makes you feel mellow,’ says McTaggart.
Drink wine after dinner so the sugars don’t hit your empty stomach, creating a spike in blood sugar levels
Serve with edamame beans. ‘They’re low in fat and sugar and a great source of fibre, which, with protein, should form the bulk of our diet in the evening as it will fill us up without leading to weight gain,’ says Schaffner.
TOP TIP: Cook turkey with cayenne pepper to boost metabolism.
A glass of wine can improve sleep. ‘A study in which subjects were given a glass of wine or a glass of water after dinner found that those who drank wine had better sleep quality,’ says Southern.
TOP TIP: Drink wine after dinner so the sugars don’t hit your empty stomach, creating a spike in blood sugar levels. ‘When blood sugar levels are low, the body produces adrenaline to compensate,’ says Southern. ‘An adrenaline surge overnight is known to wake you up, typically at around 3am.’
For a snack before bed, choose cherries, which contain melatonin – a hormone that induces sleep
For a snack before bed, choose cherries, which contain melatonin – a hormone that induces sleep.
‘Cherry juice can increase melatonin circulation and improve sleep function,’ says Southern.