In this week’s “answering questions regarding food” series, we are going to talk about lunch.
We have been told that we should eat lunch early afternoon, possibly between 12-1pm. One theory suggests that if we leave lunch for later in the day the chances that one would overeat or make an unhealthy choice will increase. The problem with this theory is that, it is trying to fit everybody in one category and as we all know by now, when it comes to diet and metabolism, one size does not fit all. Here is an example, if you are a person who upon waking up does not feel hungry, therefore, does not eat his or her first meal until 10-10:30 Am, you would not feel hungry at noon. For this person forcing to eat at noon is not a good idea. On the other hand, if you are a person who wakes up super early in the morning and eat your first meal at around 4am, because you were hungry then, you might feel hungry and need to eat your lunch sooner than noon. The problem with nutrition timing and feeding on schedule is that, it assumes that we all have the same needs, same level of activities, same timing, and the same metabolic rate. The fact is that we all have been created differently and somewhat unique. We all go to bed and wake up at different times, depending on our work schedule or our own body’s circadian rhythm, so to say that we all should eat breakfast before 8am, lunch between 12-1 and dinner between 6-7 is not really fair and accurate.
Also, some people might not really need to eat lunch. The way that their metabolism work might not require them to necessarily have all 3 main meals. Some people can easily skip lunch and not feel hungry at all. Skipping lunch raises concern regarding nutrition deficiency. There are multiple studies showing the positive effect of healthy lunch on K-12 students’ performance at school. Due to these studies, it has been suggested that adults need to eat a nutritious lunch in order to stay more focused and perform better in their daily activities. Even though this can be true to some extend and for some people, it is not the case for everyone. Still, One might argue that skipping lunch or in fact any meal, will cause our body to enter starvation mode and slows down the metabolism, resulting in weight gain. This can be true if you feel hungry and starving, but not always.
Let’s look at the other side of the story and how skipping lunch can harm or benefit some individuals. You probably heard about intermittent fasting and the role that it plays in weight management. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting will actually increase metabolic rate by 3.6-14%. Also by skipping a meal, if you don’t overeat at the next meal, you tend to consume less calories, so intermittent fasting has a two fold effect on weight loss (lower calorie intake and higher calorie expenditure). Again, if you are a person who feels foggy, get headaches, feel nauseated and feel sluggish in general, when skipping lunch, then this is a sign that you are entering starvation mode and intermittent fasting is not good for your body.
Do you hear me saying this over and over, we all have been created differently and our bodies have different needs. So what works for one person might not work for others. Even though intermittent fasting might increase metabolic rate in some people, it might slow it in others. The key here is to listen to your body, look carefully at the signs and adjust until you hit the sweet spot. Also keep in mind that eating habit is not the only thing that boosts or slows your metabolism, there are so many other factors that can affect your metabolism. I will dedicate another post, in the near future to metabolism so we can understand our body better.
I think, now we all have a better understanding as why eating lunch between 12-1 might not be ideal and best for everyone. Now let’s talk about what we should and should not eat for lunch, and if we can really set a guideline for this.
Lunch has been known as the meal in the middle of the day. So this meal should give you enough energy and nutrition to be able to physically and mentally function and finish your tasks. So we should make sure we are fueling our brain as well as the rest of our body. Here is what has been recommended mostly:
Complex carbohydrates: like whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, whole grain pastas, etc.
Lean protein: Like poultry, fish, lean red meat, beans, tofu etc.
Dairy: Like yogurt, cheese, milk, soy milk
Fruits and veggies: Like green salad or pieces of fruit for dessert
So are these good for everybody. Here is my personal issue with these recommendations, and I could not find any scientific study with or against any of these suggestions:
First of all to eat all of these in one sitting is way too much. This might be a reason that some of us might think we are doing all the right things and eating all the right foods, but not seeing any health results such as weight lost.
Second: this list is way too general and does not include any food allergies or restrictions
So to answer our question as is their a perfect lunch plan that everyone should follow, I must say No and here is why: I might be able to eat a lean cheese burger on a whole grain bun with side of green salad and a bowl of fruits and be hungry 30 minutes later (Just a side note, If I eat this, I will be full for probably two days) and some other person might just eat a simple green salad and stay full for the entire afternoon.
The point here is, once again, we are all different and we process and digest food differently. Listen to your body. Get to know your digestive system. Know what foods or food groups make you feel more energized and keep you full and energized longer and eat more of those. (Another side note: even though cake and candy might make you feel better, but I am pretty sure they will not keep you full longer, so nice try.)
Lunch is important for those of us who start to fatigue and get foggy early in the afternoon and we should eat a healthy lunch based on our digestive system and our body’s needs. On the other hand, there are some of us who function better with skipping lunch, this does not mean that we are going to get nutrition deficient. Believe me, our bodies are so smart that the minute they start to lack a nutrition, they will send you signals, but unfortunately most of us tend to ignore these signals. Try this, next time you get a headache, stop for a minute and see what you have done differently, Did you forget to drink enough water? Did you stay up longer last night to get some work done? What did you eat during the day? 9 out of 10 you will find the reason for your headache. This is true with almost all other inflammations and discomforts in our body. Listen to these signals, ask questions, talk to your healthcare provider and get tested.
Stay happy and healthy