If you are in tune with your body, you may have already sensed that your appetite and food cravings often vary by season or menstrual cycles. For all humans, as the seasons change, so should our diet and exercise adapt to keep in tune with nature. This variability is further pronounced in women compared to men. Whereas men can consume a fairly stable diet for long periods of time, women need to change their diet periodically because menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause are times of increased nutritional demand.
What is the best time of day to eat?
According to Ayurvedic principles, our digestive fire (Agni) corresponds to the rising position of the sun. That means, our digestion is strongest between 10 am to 2 pm, peaking around noon.
From a practical standpoint, while lunch can be your largest meal of the day, try to keep breakfast and dinner light, with food that is easier to digest.
How does meal timing affect our blood sugar and insulin?
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, keep in mind that insulin resistance is strongest in the morning when you wake up. Consuming a high carb or sugary breakfast is going to provoke a strong spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash because of insulin resistance. Drinking a high-caffeine beverage without eating any protein will also cause increased blood sugar. The best thing to do here would be to eat breakfast that is high-protein or a combination of protein and healthy fat. For example, a protein smoothie, greek yogurt with granola, avocado toast or eggs. Even a small but simple protein choice such as a boiled egg, a scoop of peanut butter or a handful of trail mix would be a good start!
Proteins and healthy fats keep you feeling full longer and do not cause your blood sugar to spike.
If you are a woman with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), you should follow this principle as well because insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome is often a component of PCOS.
Should we change our diet to balance our menstrual cycle?
During the early part of our menstrual cycle (from menses to mid cycle ovulation) which is also called the follicular phase, our metabolism tends to slow down. During this time, choose more protein in your diet whether lean meats or plant based. Keep your meals light and easy to digest. Eat small, frequent meals and consume slow-burning carbohydrates like legumes and root veggies,
During the second part of your cycle, from ovulation to the next menses (luteal phase), our metabolism is higher. If you don’t address this need by consuming more healthy fats such as nuts, eggs and avocado to fuel the engine, sugar cravings can take over. Consuming more sugar during this time can cause bloating, acne, PMS etc. Studies have also shown that reducing salty foods, refined sugar and caffeine during the luteal phase while consuming more omega 3 fatty acids helps to reduce PMS.
Can food influence cortisol or stress hormone?
Just like steroids have a big impact on inflammatory conditions, our body produces more stress hormones to combat inflammation in our body. By adopting an anti-inflammatory diet (similar in principle to the Mediterranean diet), you will also lower excess cortisol production in your body. Avoid processed foods, eat more whole foods, especially colorful fruits and veggies. Incorporate more omega 3 fatty acids in your diet from fatty fish and shellfish but also from plant sources such as flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
Spacing out your meals:
Avoid eating large, calorie rich foods or fatty meals back to back or too close to each other as this will overwhelm the digestive system. Instead, eat small, frequent meals, every 3-4 hours to keep your blood sugar steady and avoid sugar cravings.
Should my diet adapt to the seasons?
Drawing on Ayurvedic principles again, each dosha is more magnified in particular seasons. For example, Kapha (earth and water) is more dominant in the springtime. This is a good time to do that detox or the occasional fast as appetites tend to run low. Pitta (fire and water) is more dominant in the summer months into early fall. Cool and moist foods are recommended during this time. Vata dosha (wind and air) is more dominant in the winter months leading into spring. Our digestive system is stronger during this time and we burn more calories keeping warm. During this time, you could find yourself craving meals that are richer and more complex.
Yours in good health,
Dr. Ashita Gupta