Wednesday 13 December 2017

Irish dietitian Orla Walsh: 'Eating most of your calories after 5pm can be a recipe for disaster'

Orla Walsh explains how eating most of your calories after 5pm can be a recipe for disaster

Dietitian Orla Walsh
Dietitian Orla Walsh

Many of us are guilty of eating the majority of our calories after 5pm, a far cry from "breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper". Breakfast may be small or non-existent, lunch a standard size, while dinner eclipses them all. In fact, by the time it gets to dinnertime, the flood gates are open.

If you're someone who picks on food in the evening time, you're certainly not alone. Currently, us Irish are snacking two to three times per day, mostly at home, and a lot of the time we're choosing to eat chocolate, sweets and crisps. Due to the high number of calories per bite and the inability of many to control the number of bites of these sugary or salty foods, this is problematic for waistlines.

Our day's food is not the only thing becoming top-heavy. This exponential increase in food as the day goes on, along with some other culprits such as lack of sleep and stress, is resulting in many of us growing around the waistline.

This makes us look like a triangle on legs (our waist being wider than our shoulders). In order to invert this triangle, we need our meal pattern to reflect the shape we wish to achieve. Dietitians would often advocate inverting this triangle by eating a big breakfast, a medium-sized lunch, and a small dinner. But why?

By eating more in the first half of the day, you're more likely to be fuelling your body when it's moving, rather than stationary. If you're more active in the first half of the day and find yourself deviating towards the couch come 7pm, it may be beneficial to eat smaller meals as the day moves on.

One study compared two calorie-controlled diets. There were two scenarios:

1. Seventy per cent of calories were eaten at breakfast and lunch;

2. Seventy per cent at dinner and night-time snack.

Weight loss and fat loss were greater in those that ate more food in the first half of the day compared to the second half of their day. The reason for this is a body at rest overnight doesn't need as many calories; hence, eating a big meal in the evening will result in fat storage. By eating a big breakfast and medium lunch when you are most active during the day, the calories eaten will be used preferentially for energy. Feeding your body what it needs when it needs it is paramount to your body functioning as it should.

It's nothing new to hear that breakfast is good for you. Science suggests that those that eat breakfast have a lower body weight. By skipping breakfast, you are more likely to become obese and it makes it harder to keep your weight stable. Thus breakfast is often touted as the most important meal of the day, despite one in three Irish people skipping it.

This occurs for many reasons, but there is science backing the theories of increased feelings of fullness throughout the day coupled with a reduction in appetite, food cravings and emotional eating.

Although it is important to chomp down a breakfast, what you choose to munch on is also worth noting. A higher-protein breakfast helps control blood sugar better than a low-protein breakfast. This helps prevent sugar cravings as energy levels are more stable. In fact, scientific studies have shown that higher-protein breakfasts, when compared against lower-protein breakfasts, decreased snacking on less healthy foods later in the evening, especially those high in fat and sugar. If you find yourself munching on these types of less healthy foods late at night, you may find it beneficial if you tweak your morning meal.

Higher protein breakfast foods:

• Greek yoghurt

• Seed butter, e.g. tahini

• Cottage cheese

• Turkey bacon

• Eggs

• Mozzarella

• Ricotta

• Nuts, e.g pecan, walnut

• Milk

• Yoghurt

• Quark

• Smoked salmon

• Beans

• Nut butter, e.g. peanut butter

• Seeds, e.g. sesame, pumpkin

• Protein or milk powders

Research suggests what you eat and when you eat impacts your hormone levels. Your body relies on the appropriate amount of hormones to be created and released at the right time to function as it should. When hormones are not at their desirable levels, problems arise.

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