When to eat what: An hour-by-hour guide to a better diet

When to eat what: An hour-by-hour guide to a better diet

If you are into nutrition, you know that there is a raft of information out there to help you count your carbs and check off your daily fruit and vegetable targets.

But as in any industry, there are tricks of the trade that nutrition experts tap into to improve their own health. They know the shortcuts, hacks and essential daily habits that put the latest science into practice at the times of day they will have maximum impact.

Here is my hour-by-hour guide to supercharging your approach to health.

Matcha will help rehydrate you after a night's sleep.

Matcha will help rehydrate you after a night’s sleep.

6am: Kick off with matcha

A type of green tea powder made from roasted tea leaves, matcha is especially rich in antioxidants. It will help rehydrate you after a night’s sleep, and is perfect before a brisk walk as it has been shown to slightly increase the amount of fat metabolised.

Move your body

As we age, our metabolic rate reduces, the result of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and a general reduction in the amount of muscle mass we have, making weight gain common.

To help keep on top of these weight increases, start each day with a 20-minute walk or light workout. It is a great way to give your metabolism a much-needed boost while also increasing appetite so you are hungry for breakfast.

Adults need to take a minimum of 10,000 steps a day for good health, and starting the day with 2000-3000 steps is a solid contribution to this target.

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7am: Hydrate

Many of us walk around dehydrated, especially during the first half of the day. Back up your morning exercise regime with a big glass of water and, if you opt for ice water, you will burn extra kilojoules as the body’s internal temperature regulator needs to work a little harder to metabolise extremely cold foods.

Nourish your gut

Gut health is where things are at in nutritional science now and, while there are many gut health supplements available, a fermented whole food such as kefir is a great morning breakfast addition.

Containing probiotics, as well as a range of nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, a daily shot of kefir (in milk or water form) will help nourish your gut from the inside.

Eggs can be the perfect way to start the day.

Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash

Eggs can be the perfect way to start the day.

8am: Break the fast

Contrary to popular belief, especially since fasting regimes have been in vogue, for many of us it remains important to kick start our metabolism after the overnight fast with a protein-rich meal. Two eggs, 100 grams of salmon or a serving of whey or pea protein isolate powder as part of your breakfast will supply two to three grams of the amino acid leucine, which has been shown to help control insulin levels and, as a result, appetite through the morning.

In addition, some whole fresh fruit or a serve of wholegrains via a dense grain bread or low-sugar oat or granola mix will offer dietary fibre to help support digestive comfort and gut health. Oats mixed with fruit, eggs on a slice of wholegrain toast, or a warm breakfast bowl with salmon, are excellent breakfast options.

Enjoy your favourite cuppa

Never fear, your favourite coffee is still on the menu.

Opting for a piccolo or small coffee will give you a nice 100mg hit of caffeine to keep your brain firing for an hour or two.

Even better is to enjoy your coffee with dairy or fortified soy milk to tick the box on a serve of calcium to support bone health.

10am: Time to move

Human bodies are not programmed to sit for long periods of time. Aiming to not sit for more than two hours at a time is a good goal.

If it is sunny outside, take a quick walk to get a much-needed vitamin D boost.

Beetroot is packed with antioxidants, has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.


Beetroot is packed with antioxidants, has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.

Beet it

Mid-morning is a popular time for a second coffee, but instead seek out a vegetable-based juice or, even better, a beetroot juice.

Vegetable juices are largely water, so they are a great option for hydration. But beetroot, in particular, is packed with antioxidants, has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, and has been shown to improve blood flow and help reduce blood pressure.

Noon: Lunchtime

Don’t leave lunch until 2pm or 3pm. The earlier your lunch, the better for your blood glucose regulation.

Opt for a lunch mix that contains a protein base such as chicken, turkey, lean meat, or legumes, as these foods are a rich source of the amino acid tryptophan, known for its mood-boosting benefits.

Team your protein with a controlled portion of fibre-rich, whole grain carbohydrate for sustained energy. Rye-based options, including rye sourdough or rye-based crackers, are a rich source of prebiotic fibres, which feeds the good bacteria in the gut and is associated with improved digestive function.

Time for more steps

The best time to move through the day is after you have eaten, to help promote glucose uptake in the muscles, and support digestion.

A 10-20-minute stroll is all you need to help prevent the tired, lethargic feeling that can plague many of us after lunch.

Aim for another 2000-3000 steps to move closer to your daily goal of 10,000-12,000.

Clear caffeine, like green or black tea, is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.


Clear caffeine, like green or black tea, is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

2pm: Go for some clear caffeine

The hour or so after lunch is the perfect time for another light caffeine hit, and opting for a clear green or black tea will help to keep sugar cravings under control, and will give you that subtle hit of energy many of us seek out at this time of day.

From a cognitive perspective, green tea is a particularly good choice, with a growing number of studies showing that it appears to have a positive effect on memory, as well as a number of cardiovascular benefits.

If you are a little peckish, teaming your warm drink with some antioxidant-rich blueberries will give you an extra dose of anthocyanins, polyphenols associated with improvements in brain signalling and memory that provide dietary fibre with few kilojoules.

3pm: Time to refuel

The beauty of enjoying an early lunch is that your body will be ready for a refuel at 3pm, and eating before your blood glucose levels have dropped and you are extremely hungry will help prevent late-afternoon binges.

Mid-afternoon is a perfect time to enjoy some nutrient-rich nuts, as fewer than 5 per cent of adults consume the daily recommended 30 grams of nuts for optimal health.

Specifically, 10 walnuts will give you an added omega-3 boost. For men and boys, adding a couple of brazil nuts will tick the box on your daily selenium intake, which is important for prostate health.

Team your nuts with yoghurt, or a couple of whole grain crackers with cheese or nut spread, or a small protein-based snack bar for energy. Alternatively, there are worse things you could do than sneak a couple of squares of dark chocolate.

Having chopped vegetables, such as carrots, to munch in the late afternoon will help keep ravenous snacking under control.


Having chopped vegetables, such as carrots, to munch in the late afternoon will help keep ravenous snacking under control.

5pm: Load up on vegetables

Many of us are ravenous when we finish work, and reach for dip, crackers, cheese and wine, often succumbing to a complete kilojoule overload before dinner.

For this reason, having an apple or chopped vegetables such as carrots, cucumber, radish or capsicum to munch in the late afternoon will help keep this type of binge eating under control.

In fact, if eye health is of interest, orange capsicum, in particular, is a rich source of the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which has been shown to help prevent macular degeneration.

Alternatively, if you are at home, cooking up a batch of your own kale chips with some extra virgin olive oil will increase your intake of leafy greens.

A bone broth-based clear soup is exceptionally low in calories and linked to improved immune function, thanks to the presence of carnosine, a molecule directly involved in immune cell activation.

Grab a glass of water to help break some less healthy habits.


Grab a glass of water to help break some less healthy habits.

6pm: Reach for the sparkling

For those who enjoy an alcoholic drink after work, it can be easy to fall into a habit of working through a bottle of wine. The more alcohol you consume over time, the more you will need it to relax and, from a kilojoule perspective, consuming two to three standard drinks each evening translates to almost an entire meal worth of kilojoules.

Reaching for a glass of sparkling water when you knock off, not only helps to break the habit of grabbing an alcoholic drink, but will help to reduce your overall intake as your drinking shifts from autopilot to a more mindful decision later in the evening.

Aiming to enjoy just one alcoholic drink every 40 to 60 minutes will further help control your intake, and keep it within the recommended 10 standard drinks a week.

7pm: Go light at night

The lighter yet more nutrient-dense your evening meal, and the earlier you enjoy it, the better it will be for digestion and weight control.

Nutrient-rich meals include seafood, such as shellfish or salmon, two or three times a week to help ensure an adequate intake of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, especially if you also consume the skin of the fish, which is one of the richest sources of omegas.

Alternatively, choosing a palm-sized piece of lean red meat a couple of times a week will help ensure you get enough iron, which is crucial for immune function and energy production.

Adding at least three to four different vegetables to your evening meal will mean you are getting the seven to 10 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables a day that is encouraged in the especially healthy Mediterranean diet.

Finally, a strong habit to form is to end your meal in the way many Europeans do, with some fresh salad leaves and extra virgin olive oil. Leafy greens, including kale and broccolini, are exceptionally rich sources of the anti-cancer molecules called glucosinolates, and teaming them with fresh olive oil will help improve their flavour and add an extra serve of antioxidants to the mix.

After dinner, take a walk to help aid your digestion.

Emma Simpson/Unsplash

After dinner, take a walk to help aid your digestion.

8pm: Move a little

One of the best things we can do for blood glucose control, and to aid digestion, is to move for at least 20 minutes after a meal.

This could translate to cleaning up after dinner or even going for a stroll around the block, and avoiding the couch will also help put an end to the sugar cravings that can plague us after the evening meal.

9pm: Cheese please

In an ideal world, few of us would eat after dinner, but instead of reaching for the chocolate, ice cream or biscuits, a much better option is to end the day with a slice or two of cheese and a couple of seeded crackers.

The rich cheese will help remineralise your teeth after dinner, and offer an extra serve of calcium for healthy bones, while the seeded crackers are a relatively low carbohydrate option that will still satisfy any sugar cravings.

Adding a caffeine-free black or herbal tea is a perfect end to a day dedicated to optimising your health and wellbeing.

*Susie Burrell is an accredited practising dietitian

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