Better-way-highway-sign

I think there is a better way to eat.

There has to be, because the way we’re currently eating isn’t working (obviously).

One of the problems with modern dietary advice is that it it’s been repeated long enough to be taken as fact. Let’s look at some hallmarks of Conventional Wisdom:

1: Eat carbs in the morning;

2: Keep fat low;

3: High protein is bad for you.

The problem with generic statements like this is they just focus on food, for food’s sake.

They don’t take into consideration appetite, hunger and how we process nutrients.

I propose a better way; eating in sync with our natural, daily hormonal rhythms. If we look at eating through the lens of our circadian rhythm, then these generic dietary soundbites get turned on their heads.

Why Circadian Rhythm Matters

Your circadian rhythm is more colloquially known as your ‘body clock.’ While we associate it primarily with our sleep-wake cycles, we’re now realising that the physiological fluctuations that occur around that 24-hour cycle regulates appetite, carbohydrate and fat metabolism. [1]

Understanding the hormonal fluctuations that naturally occur as part of this cycle can help you effortlessly control calories, feel full and more energetic.

It also means we can forget the traditional advice of eating your carbs in the morning.

Why Morning Carbs Make You Hungry

Cortisol at its highest concentration in the morning. This is a hormonal mess for morning carbs, because high cortisol stimulates an exaggerated insulin response to meals, resulting in rapid carbohydrate metabolism. [2]

This rapid carbohydrate metabolism is why high carb breakfasts stimulate hunger. The problem is that this quick drop in blood sugar soon after morning breakie carbs leads to greater appetite and more calories eaten later. [3, 4]

So what to do? Alter breakfast composition to higher protein and fat.

A high fat, low carb breakfast results in a lower insulin response and less appetite 4 hours after the breakfast when compared to a high carb, low fat breakfast. [3]

Aim for 30g of protein at breakfast, an intake which has been shown to result in lower insulin response to the meal, and greater appetite control at subsequent meals. [4]

Consuming a low protein breakfast can lead to an extra 100 calories eaten at lunch [4]; doesn’t sound like much, but that’s 700 extra calories a week, on top of the rest.

Interestingly, given the recent absolution of eggs from their choleterol-associated purgatory (5), eggs at breakfast leads to less calorie intake over a 24-hour period when compared to a bagel [6].

This is unsurprising, given that we know protein is the most satiating macronutrient, through stimulating satiety hormones in the gut and also satiety mechanisms in the brain. (7)

Even with typical breakfast foods like yogurt, increasing the protein content of the yogurt over the carb content reduces the blood sugar response to the food. (8)

The message is pretty clear: protein and fat in the morning lead to better appetite control over the rest of the day.

Why Evening Eating Works

In a nutshell, because eating in the evening is in sync with our chronobiology.

You can make all sorts of speculative evolutionary arguments, and intuitively you could argue they make sense; we hunted and gathered during the day, and ate in the evening.

Whether that’s true or not, the fact is that eating more in the evening than in the early part of the day will still lead to weight loss (once calories are in check), but importantly seems to preserve lean body mass (9). This is an important distinction, because your metabolic rate is linked to your lean body mass – and declines in metabolism make it easier to gain weight.

The other element to evening eating is that it supports better quality sleep – this is where carbs can be beneficial, as keeping carbs too low in the evening can increase the time it takes to get to sleep, and decrease REM sleep. [10]

As a healthy cortisol pattern is low at night, going low carb in the evening can elevate cortisol levels in order to maintain blood sugar levels, which is the exact pattern you want to avoid to enhance circadian rhythm entrainment. [11]

Carbs, via the action of insulin, divert larger proteins to muscle tissue, allowing the amino acid tryptophan a free ride across the blood-brain barrier, where increased concentrations of tryptophan result in greater serotonin and melatonin production. [12]

Having a serving of carbs with dinner – a small-medium sweet potato, half-cup (dry measure) of rice or quinoa, or 1 cup of lentils/beans – might be the thing that helps you sleep better, lose more weight, and stay sane.

The fact that it is sync with our social habits, as well as hormonal ryhthms, is just as important from a behavioural perspective.

And if you truly wanted to maximise the benefit of evening carbs, then do some resistance training – muscular contraction causes muscle cells to soak up blood glucose, without requiring insulin.

The benefit of this? You get to eat more carbs than someone who doesn’t train.

Why Food Advice Needs to Evolve

Dietary recommendations fall short for many reasons, one of which is that they attempt to fit square pegs into round holes.

A glaring example of that is the continual push to have people wake up, and shovel in a bunch of ‘heart-healthy’ cereals, toast (wholegrain, of course), and wash it down with a glass of concentrated fruit juice (you know, the ‘5-a-day’).

This is a surefire way of getting people to put on weight, and keeping them there in a never-ending struggle to lose it.

And it’s clearly working.

If we want to help change on a broader, population-wide level, we need to start making better food-based recommendations for what to eat, and when. But it would be a serious dose of egg-on-face for the recommendations to shift to, well, eggs for breakfast.

So don’t wait. Shift your diet starting now, to the “Circadian Rhythm Diet.” The principles couldn’t be simpler:

1: Protein and fat for breakfast, aiming for 30g protein  (e.g.’s 4-egg omelette –  200g Greek yogurt with an ounce almonds – 1.5 scoops added to a morning (fat-based!) smoothie);

2: Eat protein at each subsequent meal – a minimum of a palm-sized serving;

3: Time carbs for the evening. If you’re sedentary, keep portion size to the equivalent of your fist. For optimal results, hit the weights to maximise glucose disposal in muscle tissue.


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References

  1. Kim, T., Jeong, J. and Hong, S. (2015). The Impact of Sleep and Circadian Disturbance on Hormones and Metabolism. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2015, pp.1-9.
  2. Vila, G., Krebs, M., Riedl, M., Baumgartner-Parzer, S., Clodi, M., Maier, C., Pacini, G. and Luger, A. (2010). Acute effects of hydrocortisone on the metabolic response to a glucose load: increase in the first-phase insulin secretion. European Journal of Endocrinology, 163(2), pp.225-231.
  3. Chandler-Laney, P., Morrison, S., Goree, L., Ellis, A., Casazza, K., Desmond, R. and Gower, B. (2014). Return of hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir. Appetite, 80, pp.236-241.
  4. Rains, T., Leidy, H., Sanoshy, K., Lawless, A. and Maki, K. (2015). A randomized, controlled, crossover trial to assess the acute appetitive and metabolic effects of sausage and egg-based convenience breakfast meals in overweight premenopausal women. Nutrition Journal, 14(1), p.17.
  5. Gray, J. and Griffin, B. (2009). Eggs and dietary cholesterol – dispelling the myth. Nutrition Bulletin, 34(1), pp.66-70.
  6. Ratliff, J., Leite, J., de Ogburn, R., Puglisi, M., VanHeest, J. and Fernandez, M. (2010). Consuming eggs for breakfast influences plasma glucose and ghrelin, while reducing energy intake during the next 24 hours in adult men. Nutrition Research, 30(2), pp.96-103.
  7. Cuenca-Sanchez, M., Navas-Carrillo, D. and Orenes-Pinero, E. (2015). Controversies Surrounding High-Protein Diet Intake: Satiating Effect and Kidney and Bone Health. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 6(3), pp.260-266.
  8. El Khoury, D., Brown, P., Smith, G., Berengut, S., Panahi, S., Kubant, R. and Anderson, G. (2014). Increasing the protein to carbohydrate ratio in yogurts consumed as a snack reduces post-consumption glycemia independent of insulin. Clinical Nutrition, 33(1), pp.29-38.
  9. Sensi, S. and Capani, F. (1987). Chronobiological Aspects of Weight Loss in Obesity: Effects of Different Meal Timing Regimens. Chronobiology International, 4(2), pp.251-261.
  10. Afaghi, A., O’Connor, H. and Chow, C. (2008). Acute effects of the very low carbohydrate diet on sleep indices. Nutritional Neuroscience, 11(4), pp.146-154.
  11. Christianson, A. (n.d.). The adrenal reset diet.
  12. Halson, S. (2014). Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep. Sports Med, 44(S1), pp.13-23.