Don’t diet – Sleep!

diet-sleepSounds strange, right? (… or like a very promising approach) but when it comes to dieting we thought everything is based on the balance of calorie intake and the energy we spend. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. It is becoming clearer and clearer that another factor is involved in the equation for weight balance: Our biological rhythm. When do we eat and how often over the course of the day? And even more interestingly, sleep habits seem to play an important role in weight control.

In fact, several body functions are adjusted to the biological rhythm. The production of stomach acid, for instance, is characterized with low levels during the morning hours and high levels in the late evening. Intestinal movements have been shown to have time-dependent peaks and seem to easily adapt to individual habits or rituals (I’m sure the majority of us knows what time of the day they need to keep themselves close to a restroom…). All seems to be perfectly organized by Mother Nature, as always. But how come our bodies know what time it is? The most important control centre of several loop systems in our bodies is located in the bottom part of the brain, the hypophysis. It’s actually a gland releasing a variety of hormones regulating a wide range of essential functions, among others our food intake, by adapting to environmental factors. Primarily, the light-dark cycle stimulates this “master clock”, but also factors such as temperature, social habits and food are adjusting. These impulses are processed in the brain and transmitted to other body tissues, turning on so-called “clock genes”. As you might know, genes are located in every cell in our bodies and encode information for certain functions, such as these “clock genes” are involved in metabolic mechanisms like activating the break down and transport of dietary fats or other nutrients.

Sleep habits are highly involved in regulating our daily rhythms. Over the past decades sleep duration has gone back considerably, mostly due to lifestyle factors such as work conditions …for not bringing up regular weekends, you party animals!… let’s take the example of shift workers: This part of the population has in many studies been shown to have a higher risk of obesity and poor overall  health conditions – researchers strongly suspect the link to lifestyle in this context: Has the biological rhythm gone out of order? In studies on rodents naturally active at night time reverse feeding at daylight hours resulted in significantly increased weight gain. Also manipulating the “code” of clock genes in mice could be linked to obesity. Up to now it is not known how a disbalanced bio-rhythm affects weight control, but there is rising consensus that it plays a role. Comparing different groups of workers, shift workers tend to have clear disadvantages with regard to their blood values. Whether this is due to the day-night rhythm could not be clarified yet as shift workers commonly also consume a diet high in fat… but why’s that? one might wonder. Sleep restriction has been associated with low leptin levels – a hormone that transmits the information “have had enough now” from our stomach to the brain. Too little of this hormone in turn would mean that we get hungry more often and sooner. Some studies suggest that this temporary effect might already occur after a total of 4 hours sleep restriction for 2 nights in a row.

Our lifestyles are depending on many different factors and some of them, especially the ones coming from work might be difficult to influence ourselves. However, we need to be aware of our biological rhythm and its impact on our food intake – and eventually weight control and the risk factors linked to it.

  • Rest and routines: Aim for regular light exposure. I know, I know, winter is coming up so it’s gonna be challenging but worth a try. Get out there as often as possible, engage in regular exercise, and take your meals around the same times of the day. Habits help you to improve your sleep.
  • Get your free regeneration boost! Most of the tissues and nerve cell reparation and renewal happens overnight, when we sleep – most effectively in our deep sleep phase (also essential when aiming to build muscles) Means: Sleep isn’t sleep. Try to eliminate as many sleep disturbing factors as possible. Stress, alcohol and heavy dinner may reduce the time of deep sleep thus decreases its positive effects.
  • Early bird vs. night owl: Everyone of us has their individual demand of sleep. While one would still feel tired after 7 hours of sleep, others want to jump right out of bed after 6. Sleep demand can vary between 6-9 hours from person to person. Most people know what they need naturally but still don’t listen to their demands. Sleep has become a luxury good, so pay to it the attention it deserves!

That’s why you want to get all crazy on eggs

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It’s one of the simplest staples and to find as an ingredient in many processed foods and meals but still underrated or even feared: The egg. (Boom!) Alright, I know you must be feeling all excited now… hardly any other food is as attractive as this little shelled friend being produced in areas of animals we don’t want to picture any closer. At times being associated with salmonella, dioxins or “lethal dietary cholesterol” probably won’t contribute to making the reputation of the hen’s product any better. Meeting these guys in my fridge and on the plate almost every day though I felt I owe them one, and honestly I really feel they deserve it.

In German the former, more popular and still widely used term for protein actually is “Eiweiß” which directly translated means egg white. Never really reflecting on its meaning at some point one may discover it makes totally sense: Eggs are for sure known for their protein, however, it’s not only the amount (6-7 g each) but the quality of protein contained in one egg that makes them so valuable for our balanced diet. Not every protein is created equal, they are complex molecules built of different profiles of even smaller molecules called amino acids. The composition of the proteins determines its “biological value” – a term describing how efficient protein is used in our bodies to build and maintain our lean body mass (the substance, our energy burning “power plant”). With a rate of 100 / 100 biological value eggs are one of the best digestible protein sources existing. Got your attention now? Well, I’m not talking bodybuilding language here (I’m sure you guys know the bio-values by heart…) Keeping up with your protein intake is important to all of us but there is more eggs can offer!

Talking about appreciation, the most unsexiest part of the egg might be its yolk – that’s at least to assume when seeing people peeling off the white and separating it from its core… (I’m sure you must have seen that some time) But what’s wrong with the yellow stuff? Well, nothing. What may however be one reason for its bad reputation is that the egg yolk contains the most of the fat and cholesterol in the egg which has long been considered to be associated with high blood cholesterol levels and in turn seen as a risk factor for heart disease. Many health associations warned and restricted their recommendations for egg consumption to the lowest. However, over the past recent years evidence grew that this hypothesis cannot be applied to the average healthy population, so they took it back. On the contrary, studies have shown that eggs as part of our diet may positively affect the HDL-LDL cholesterol ratio thus could be even preventing coronary disease.

For the ones who still cannot overcome the yolk-fear: There is much more about the egg yolk then just the cholesterol. Beside the fat there come the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K, and B vitamins, essential fatty acids and (again) protein! Egg yolks are also a good source for iron and selenium which might be especially interesting for the vegetarians among us. So, don’t miss out on the “gold part” of the egg – it literally is a treasure. It’s true that egg white is high in protein and low in fat thus contains less calories than the yolk but at the same time it also provides us with less of the extra “nutrition”. Having both components complementing each other makes the egg an adequate nutrient dense superfood (as already intended by mother nature, but this only said by the way). So, even if it depends on your goals and overall daily calorie intake make sure to add whole eggs to your diet as well!

  • Find your right way of serving it: Add an extra egg to your salad or soup; boiled they are a simple complement for the lunch box (a must have in my fridge)! Take less of the extra oil if you prefer to fry your eggs though, saving some extra fat.
  • Don’t exaggerate: Ok, even if you (re-) discovered your appreciation for eggs now (I know I did a good job selling it to you), take it easy. 2-3 whole eggs per day are totally fine but since they are very concentrated nutrition bombs moderation and variation applies… as for everything else! All the different nutrient sources want to be mixed.

Nutrition for the ones on the go!

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After one week business trip in good old Germany ending with a 3-days-hardcore-sightseeing tour for a friend visiting me here in Stockholm I immediately knew what my next article would be about: The jungle of hotel brekkie, refreshment stops, dining out & to-go.

Once out of the daily routines we get to see all the different faces food can have (probably the reason why I’m falling in love with it over and over again?) Whether you travel for work or leisure – what starts with the excitement of food exploring can easily shift into stressful hunting for the “real food” providing us with the right boost needed to discover the city, to survive the meeting or simply keep our stomach happy and relaxed. As convenient food for busy people on the go has become within the recent years there are at least as many traps – meals that lie heavy in your stomach – and it’s not only the “obvious” fast food I am talking about!  

Okay, honestly, how many of you do actually cook their own food when traveling? Of course this would be the ideal choice according to studies showing that our calorie intake increases with on average 150 calories per meal when choosing the restaurant. Eatery food often contains more fat such as hidden in form of sauces and dressings, and overall more is fried. Makes perfect sense: fat and sugar carry the taste… not accusing the kitchen chefs whose first concern is certainly not keeping their guests in shape, neither do I want to blame the ones who do eat out when the own kitchen equipment is not at hand. No worries, even if exposed to special conditions there are some tricks that will avoid unwelcome weight gain and keep your belly in good mood.

Only 25-25-50 makes complete.

Or: The classical plate method. Back to the basics: Half of the plate should be covered by non-starchy vegetables. One quarter needs to consist of high-protein foods, another one of carbohydrate rich foods. Even if you don’t serve yourself at the buffet or the meal is not pictured on the menu you pretty much always have an option to figure out a rough proportion of the main ingredients. In general and almost an unwritten rule (unfortunately) is: A restaurant meal always contains too little of the veggies. Why not take a glance on the vegetarian options from time to time? Craving for meat or not, bare in mind that everything called “salad” is not necessarily the healthiest choice (no offense, pasta salad).

  • Ask to get the sauce or dressing on the side so you can dose it yourself.
  • If you still want to go for the pasta (I feel you) you might skip the “extra” bread and go for the side salad instead.
  • Even if one of your daily meals doesn’t meet the plate method keep it in mind for the next one and try to balance out by e.g. adding more veggies as a side dish.

After the meal is before the snack.

In need for a fika time? (Sorry, but also my non-Swedish followers need to get familiar with this term…) Not only the cinnamon bun, in general, the obligatory snack you are most likely to find at every corner in town, any minute, for all different tastes. For the ones in a hurry, literally eating on the go – I know you want it convenient and spilling-safe. However, this leaves less options to choose from and often leads to the bakery store. Just be aware that especially the small meals can considerably add up on your daily calorie account, therefore try to not extend 200 kcal and focus on protein rich snacks with complex carbohydrates.

  • The “trend drink” smoothie might be refreshing, full of antioxidants and contains more fibre than a juice but it still gives your stomach less to work on – while being high in calories (up to 400 cal / unit). So occasionally you may choose to chew the fruit instead!
  • Egg! And there is no more words to say. My number-one-snack and all round talent. I usually always have boiled eggs in the fridge – perfectly portable it completes the protein component of any snack or meal.
  • Keep consumption of processed sugar or sweets as low as possible, same old story. However, if you really cannot stay away pick a protein bar instead of the cake or chocolate bar. The protein will keep you full for longer and help maintain your muscle mass.

Not to talk about poop…

Last but not least: Our digestion is pretty much adapted to our daily routines – which means it is put on risk when being in stress situations such as traveling long distances, going from one meeting to the other, without the comforting “rest”rooms. The result: Your stomach feels heavy and uncomfortable, affecting your daily performance. The 3 most effective helpers:

  • A proper dose of physical activity (such as walking for a total of 30-60 min / day)
  • Drinking lots of water – at least 2 litres per day (water, tea, coffee)
  • And again fibre (in form of vegetables and whole grain) will help to keep it going!