You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

As one of the most famous individuals of his time, Greek Physician Hippocrates said ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ All the way from 400 BC, it was believed that an emphasis on nutrition could prevent and cure illnesses. This still holds true today. So, yes you can have your cake and eat it too, however, it should be at the right time of the day, at the right total caloric intake for your body and using the right type of ingredients! When it comes to our diet, we need to understand what makes us healthy. Living in a busy and modern world, with what feels like very limited hours in a day, it is challenging to win the ongoing battle of maintaining our good health, jobs, families, and the rest. What does good health even look like? Food is the king of the castle when it comes to health; certain foods in your diet can either restore or throw off the balance of your hormones. As we know, hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They control almost every physiological process in your body such as the metabolism and immune system. Other factors aside, it is pretty clear that food plays one of the largest roles in our health. The question is how?

Extending from the cake analogy, there are multiple food factors that influence both our physical and mental health. I like to call these the ‘3Ts’: timing of when we eat most of our calories, the type of food we eat, and finally, the total amount of food we consume in a day. All three are important in ensuring longevity, and appropriate energy and happiness levels. For example: brain food such as nuts, fish oils and other healthy fats like those from avocados or eggs, fuel our brains and allow us to think clearly, and retain our memories. Afterall, our brain is the fattest organ in our body, weighing in on average 3lbs and comprised of about 60% fat. In the past few decades, fat has been viewed as the bad food, when at the appropriate levels, it is one of the most important nutrients for the body. Most of our food falls into these three nutrient groups: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. All three play vital roles in our stable health, however, ensuring that we balance all three at the recommended amounts for our bodies is critical. Eating well-balanced meals, at the right times of the day and at the right caloric intake for your body, can greatly enhance your health. Good health is the ability to think clearly, to be at the proper body weight, to sleep well, to be free from disease, and ultimately, to feel good.

The first T for timing is arguably one of the most critical factors. Aligning your meals to your natural circadian rhythm - the 24 hour cycle in the physiological processes of all living beings, has shown great benefit. All our metabolic processes and hormones are tied to this system. There is evidence that suggests that eating, and specifically eating more in the morning benefits our bodies much more than eating at night. Our blood sugar and cholesterol levels, our body weight and various hormone levels are impacted by the timing of when we eat. For example, our metabolism is most active in the morning, but tends to slow down at night. So eating more in the morning makes more sense. We burn more calories earlier in the day than later in the day. If we know this, then why do we continue to miss the mark on when we eat? The typical American diet consists of smaller breakfasts and larger dinners. On top of this fact, with such a busy schedule, most busy Americans eat at random times of the day, when it is most convenient for them. Worst yet, breakfast is often skipped. It is estimated that approximately 10% of Americans miss breakfast.

It is important to provide our bodies with the nutrients that are needed at the most optimal times of the day. It is equally important to provide our body with food when it truly feels hungry. By truly, I mean not because you saw a donut in a coffee shop after lunch and felt a craving. Hunger is the true pain in the gut that comes after not eating for at least 3-4 hours [1]. There is mixed evidence regarding having 3 normal-sized vs. 5 smaller meals in a day, however, whichever method you prefer, just know that timing of when we ingest the majority of our calories matters to ideal weight and our overall health. This is no different from how the timing of sleep influences our health [2]. Today, technology, and in particular, advanced software tools, algorithms, and artificial intelligence have come to our aid. SaaS platforms like MESH AI- a one-of-a-kind staff scheduling platform available for healthcare workers today- can be game-changer. The sophisticated algorithms of this platform behind a simple and user-friendly interface magically find ways to give you the work hours you want while making your boss and her boss happy. For a doctor or nurse some of the most time-crunched and stressed among us, MESH AI can provide more control time at work which in turn provides better planning opportunities for eating and resting.

The second T, type, captures the varieties of food types we can ingest. According to Healthline’s Top 50 Healthy Food List [3], when choosing what to eat, some of the healthiest are fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole and ancient grains, high-protein and lean meats and seafood, as well as full-fat dairy products as they provide the necessary nutrients that the body and brain need to function optimally. As a general rule of thumb, if the food you are eating either had a mother, or grew from the earth, it is likely good for you. In moderation, and depending on your certain allergies and sensitivities, foods from the aforementioned list in moderate quantities are very good for you. On the contrary, highly processed foods, and those that contain artificial sweeteners or chemicals, such as high-fructose corn syrup and various preservatives such as sodium nitrate, can be very damaging to the body. There are many studies that link cancers, various diseases, and high obesity rates to eating a diet consisting of more processed foods, preservatives, high sodium and sugars, than one rich in raw, whole, and natural foods.

Processed foods are foods that have been altered from their original state, such as dried fruits, cookies, and frozen dinners. They are typically packed with preservatives, sugars, salt or unhealthy fats. They are much harder on gut to digest and can create an imbalance of bacteria in our guts, thus creating inflammation and unwanted food cravings in the body, and worse, disease. For instance, the more salt we consume, the more water we retain and more bloated we feel. There can also be more severe repercussions as the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a culprit for health problems such as heart attacks, kidney disease, dementia and strokes. The reason being that high blood pressure puts unnecessary strain on various internal organs like the heart, kidneys, arteries and brain. Also, having too much sugar in your diet, raises blood sugar levels and is linked to higher incidence of cancer, obesity and diabetes. The saying you are what you eat has truth to it. We need to nourish our bodies with the best that mother nature has to offer us. Whatever diet you choose to try, or not, just focus on the quality of what you ingest. On a final note, whenever possible, choose organic, ethically sourced and sustainable farmed foods. We want to maximize the health benefits we get from the food we eat with minimal disruption from chemicals, as these are known to disrupt our endocrine system, while also caring for the earth that provides the foods we need. We need to create harmony not only in our bodies, but also in our environment and planet that supports our healthy lives.

The third T for total refers to the complete set of foods we eat on any given day. This factor is dependent on several factors: our age, our level of activity, and our current weight and health. On average, a moderately active male weighing 175 lbs requires 2,800 calories per day while a 125-lb woman with a similar active lifestyle requires 2,000 calories per day. As we gradually age, we require fewer calories as our metabolism slows down. As we increase or decrease our level of activity, as we lose or gain weight, as we pack on more muscle and consequently, have less fat resulting from various types of exercise or vice versa, we need to adjust our caloric intake accordingly; eat less when we are sedentary and older, and eat more for the opposite situations. It is pretty simple. Not always, but for the average individual’s case, yes. Some people have a certain disease or medical condition that may prompt them to eat less or more, however, on average, we can assume the above facts. There is also evidence that suggests reducing the number of calories in our day can increase our longevity. Reducing calories or having low-calorie diets can slow down the aging process by reducing free radicals linked to chronic diseases and slowing the metabolic rate. There is long-standing evidence that suggests eating less and weighing less can increase your lifespan. So, why not give this kryptonite a try?

These three T’s can likely be considered by these various actions. Firstly, planning meals ahead, or turning to food prep companies like Blue Apron, Home Chef, or Freshly, where all meals are planned and fresh ingredients are packaged in advance, can enhance the quality of our meals, and ensure we are conscious of how much we consume at certain meals. Another idea is practicing mindful eating. This concept is what it appears to be, being aware that you are actually eating. Evidence suggests that at the time that we are eating, if we are actually focused on our food, and not on our social media, work, TV, or any other distraction, we eat less. Further, eating slower and properly chewing our food before swallowing gives our hunger hormone ghrelin time to disappear. Did you know or ever wonder how fast eaters are usually full sooner than they feel they are full? This is because the hormone ghrelin, which is produced in the gut, needs time to travel from our gut, through our bloodstream and into our brain to signal hunger, or on the other side, diminish to signal fullness. So, take your time while eating, it will benefit you. Lastly, exercising regularly, about 3-4 times per week for about 30-60 minutes, is critical to maintaining a healthy mind, body and soul. Endorphins, known as the happy hormones, are released during exercise, as well as peptide YY known as the satiety hormone. Ghrelin, conversely, reduces during exercise. The net effect of exercise equates to less hunger, and less eating. Forming regular, if not daily habits surrounding these aforementioned solutions is key to maintaining our health and finally, ensuring that all three T’s are met. Ensuring we allocate thought and some of our valuable time, can surely benefit for the duration of our precious lives. Clearly, there can’t be anything more important than taking care of our health. We owe it to ourselves, to our happiness and to our body harmony.  

[1] J. Michaels (2009), Master your metabolism. New York: Three Rivers Press.

[2] “Track Your Sleep to Improve Your Lifestyle.” MyTime News, July 30, 2017.

[3] “50 Super Healthy Foods.” Healthline, Kris Gunnars, BScon, August 18, 2016.

Kristina Jaluba