Tick Tock, Follow the Clock
“The most under-rated strategy for eating smart is timing,” says Ramona Josephson, one of four Canadian registered dietitians whom we asked to share their secrets for eating smart throughout the day. All of them agree that it’s best to eat a meal or small snack every three to four hours to fuel your metabolism, help prevent blood-sugar crashes and prevent binge eating. “Of course, let your stomach be the ultimate guide, but be sure to keep an eye on the clock to make sure you are eating regularly. “We tend not to realize we haven’t eaten in a while, and by then we’re famished,” adds Josephson. So, which foods work best at specific times of the day? Here’s what our experts advise:
7:00 a.m. Breakfast
“Think protein,” recommends Mary Bamford. A study earlier this year at the University of Missouri concluded that a healthy breakfast containing protein-rich foods can be a simple strategy for people to stay satisfied longer and be less prone to snack. Eat whole grains, too; they help maintain bowel function.
- Greek-style yogurt. A roughly 100-calorie serving provides 18 grams of protein, compared with just eight to 10 in regular yogurt. Also, think outside the breakfast box and eat leftover salmon or chicken from last night’s dinner.
- Oatmeal. Your body digests the fibre slowly so you stay full for a couple of hours. Get some protein by adding low-fat milk, and toss in your favourite berries for antioxidants, plus a small handful of flaxseeds or walnuts for healthy fat.
- A bagel with cheese and bacon. This hefty breakfast can account for half your day’s calories, necessitating cutting back for the rest of the day.
10:00 a.m. Morning snack
If you eat breakfast early, you’ll end up being hungry before lunch, so plan to have a healthy snack. Remember, you don’t need to eat the same thing or same amount every day.
- Broccoli florets or carrots with low-fat yogurt dip, or apple slices with peanut butter. Choose foods that require chewing, therefore taking a bit of time to eat, and pair them with a good source of protein.
- Commercial muffins
Most of these are simply cakes in disguise, and if you add in a specialty sugar-laden coffee, your snack has become the calorie equivalent of a meal.
12:30 p.m. Lunch
Cook extra protein at dinnertime the night before, such as tofu, chicken or another lean meat or fish; it makes lunch the next day so much simpler (and you’ll be less likely to use processed meat and cheese to make sandwiches). Also, make sure you have some healthy fat, such as avocado or olive oil, to help your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K that are found in fruit and vegetables.
- Salmon sandwich with veggie sticks.
Make sure to include easy veggies, like carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, strips of red pepper or sliced cucumber with your lunch, to be well on your way to getting the seven to eight servings of vegetables and fruit recommended in Canada’s Food Guide. Salmon is a great way to get important omega-3 fatty acids.
- Anything deep-fried. High-fat foods not only add lots of calories, they take a lot of energy to digest. You’ll wonder why you feel so sluggish in the afternoon.
4:00 p.m. Afternoon snack
Check the time and stop to have a snack three to four hours after lunch. Often we can’t tell that our blood sugar is dropping. By the time we’re aware of it, it’s usually too late, and we’re already in a state of physiological stress: That means your brain is not getting blood sugar; you can’t think straight; and your willpower drops, which could lead to bad snack choices. Also, be sure to plan ahead. “Many people know that they are going to be hungry mid-afternoon, yet they don’t plan for it,” says sports dietitian Holly Heartz. “That means they’re grabbing a chocolate bar, potato chips or some other high-calorie, nutrient-poor food.”
- Crispbread with cottage cheese, or almonds and a piece of fruit. Be sure to have some type of protein or healthy fat, as this will sustain you longer than a carbohydrate on its own.
- Banana, low-fat yogurt or chocolate milk. Such easily digested snacks are key if you exercise after work; you can have them just 30 to 60 minutes before your workout. (But avoid high-fibre foods; they can cause uncomfortable bloating.)
Too many 100-calorie snack packs. While one package is fine, there’s a temptation to eat several.
Coffee on its own. It’s a stimulant that can mask hunger, and that can set you up for overeating later in the day.
7:00 p.m. Dinner
One quarter of your plate should be lean protein; one quarter whole grains; and one half veggies or salad. Include about one teaspoon (5 mL) of healthy fat (whatever you use when cooking the meal, or what you include in your salad dressing).
- Baked chicken or fish with rice and ratatouille. This covers the food groups, and is colourful and satisfying.
- Eating on the run. Whether you are on your own or with others, take the time to sit down and eat your meal. Eating slowly and mindfully helps you eat less and enjoy the flavour of your food.
11:00 p.m. Bedtime snack
If you’re a commuter, dinner can end up being at 7 or 8 p.m., so you really don’t need a snack if bedtime is, say, 10 or 11 p.m. But, if there are more than four hours between dinner and bedtime, or your stomach is growling, eat something light, keeping in mind the great breakfast you’ll have in the morning. You’ll want to be hungry for it.
- Apple slices sprinkled with a little cinnamon. Microwave these for a tasty but light snack.
- A glass of milk with a plain arrowroot cookie. It’s simple and satisfying.
- Large snack-food packages. “No normal woman ever eats only part of a chocolate bar or part of a bag of potato chips,” says Karen Graham. If you really want a chocolate bar, have just a part of one; if it’s chips you crave, buy only a small bag. Consider them treats.