We all know we need to have proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, water and fibre through the course of the day to keep healthy. But do we know what to eat when? Is there a right time to have protein? And a wrong time to have fats and sweets? Yes, there is a right time for each one of these. Follow these pointers to plan your perfect meal.
An apple a day: At breakfast, eat a fibre-rich fruit for digestion.
Breakfast is the first meal the body gets after around 8 hours. So it is important to get fuelled up right in the morning, as most of us are working actively in the first half of the day. Ideally, eat within an hour of waking up.
Plate plan: Approximately 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fats
• Include high-quality protein such as legumes, egg or lean meat in your breakfast. This blunts your hunger and is the most satiating food type.
• Add complex carbohydrates such as whole grains for instant energy as well as sustained, slow-release energy so that you don’t tire until the next meal.
• Add some good fat from olive oil, flax seeds or some almonds (healthy fats also aid satiety).
• Eat a fibre-rich fruit (such as an apple) for digestion (you should aim for around three fruits a day to get all your vitamins, and this is where you start).
• Tea or coffee should be had once you arrive at work—never with breakfast, as these beverages interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
A good menu: Dalia, upma or poha with a bowl of curd, an apple and some nuts. Or an omelette with brown bread and peach halves and a cup of milk.
Good to know: Don’t OD on sugar at breakfast—it will make you jittery and sluggish through the day (because your blood sugar will go up sharply and then plummet). Avoid sweetened cereals, especially if you are also having fruit, juice or sweetened yogurt.
A healthy lunch sets you up for a high-energy afternoon and curtails evening bingeing; a poor one leaves you low on energy, sleepy and moody.
Plate plan: Approximately 50-60% carbohydrates, 20-30% protein and 10-15% fat
• Stick to complex carbohydrates such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or multigrain bread, but not too much—lest you get lethargic.
• Choose a lean source of protein (soya, chicken, fish).
• Add some veggies or a fruit for satiety and fibre.
• Aim for three kinds of vegetables, all different colours, to make sure you’re getting all your micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.). Make one of them a leafy green vegetable for iron, with some vitamin C (tomatoes or lime juice) to boost absorption. Make sure there is a little oil in the sabzi (vegetables) or salad dressing to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
• Since you’re eating your iron-rich greens here, avoid dairy foods. They are calcium-rich and because iron and calcium are assimilated in similar ways, they can compete with each other during digestion, so that neither is efficiently absorbed. Eat your curd or paneer (cottage cheese) at dinner, or switch the pattern around—greens at dinner, dairy at lunch—if you prefer.
• If you must have dessert, now is the time. But keep it light, and if you can, make it a fruit. Share or eat half a portion instead of the whole cup of mousse or slice of cake. Also, eat dessert half an hour after lunch (you might no longer feel the craving, and be more likely to eat some fruit).
A good menu: Try a combination such as gatte ki sabzi with curd and some brown rice. Or two pieces of grilled chicken with sprouts or moong dal (green gram) salad and a slice or two of multigrain bread.
Good to know: High-fat meals, such as a double burger and large fries, stay in the stomach longer, diverting blood away from your brain, muscles and other vital organs, and leaving you sluggish for hours.
Keep this meal light and eat it at least 3 hours before bedtime. If it gets late, stick to small portions—further trimming calories and portions. To sleep well, the body has to go into rest mode and it cannot do this if it is busy digesting.
Plate plan: Approximately 40% protein, 45% carbohydrates and 15% fat
• Emphasize on protein portions again. If you ate your greens at lunch, this could be dairy protein time. Opt for paneer, yogurt or cheese.
• Don’t cut back too much on carbs; you still need them, even while sleeping.
• Cut back on fats a bit again.
• Aim for three kinds of vegetables, all different colours again, for fibre, vitamins and minerals.
A good menu: Two chapattis with beans and til (sesame seeds)—til will give a calcium boost and beans fibre and protein—and dal. Or glass noodle salad with soup and a few pieces of fish. You will get a fibre boost from the assorted vegetables in the salad and soup, and good quality protein from the fish.
Good to know: Avoid eating dessert after dinner, as it makes the meal too heavy. Have a juicy fruit instead. Another option is cheese and dates or figs, which are all rich in tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid.
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Experts: Jyothi Prasad, chief dietitian, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore; Shachi Sohal, dietitian, Dr BL Kapur Memorial Hospital, New Delhi.
SNACKING: THOSE IN-BETWEEN TIMES
Eat three main meals and two-three snacks each day. This helps optimize energy levels, minimize fat storage and stabilize blood sugar.
Super spice: Cinnamon boosts your energy.
• Long gaps in meals can also cause gastritis, so always carry a fruit with you.
• Include at least one fruit in your afternoon or evening snack to get your daily vitamin intake. Make sure it is a different one from the breakfast fruit.
• Do not eat your fruits, vegetables or dairy snacks with tea or coffee— they hamper absorption of nutrients.
• If you must have something to munch with tea or coffee, make it a small carbohydrate portion (a Marie biscuit, some puffed rice or a slice of toast), and not fruits, vegetables or yogurt.
Healthy snack: A protein and carbohydrate combination such as 1/2 cup low-fat ‘paneer’ (cottage cheese) with 1/2 cup pineapple, or 1 boiled egg with 1 slice wholewheat bread, or 1 cup of soup with sprout salad.
Good to know: Cinnamon is known to be a fatigue fighter. So if you need an afternoon energy boost, munch on a large orange, sprinkled with cinnamon. Or if you are at home, make fibre-rich cinnamon fingers. It is a better idea to sip on green tea afternoon onwards, it’s a healthier brew and is caffeine-free.