We often hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day — it sets us up for a day of healthy eating, provides essential nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals.
But when it comes to weight control, lunch is the much more important meal — however, we just don’t do it very well.
The usual scenario sees busy workers, mums and students eating their “lunchtime” meal at around 2 or 3pm in the afternoon and opting for meals like sushi, wraps, rolls and stir-fries, which are all packed full of carbs.
This plays havoc with our hormonal balance and cravings, and also results in us consuming a significant number of calories in the second half of the day when we’re least active.
There’s also an assumption that when you’re trying to lose weight, the less you eat, the better. This explains why many dieters choose to eat a light breakfast and try to hold off eating lunch as long as possible.
Eating a late lunch is the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to lose weight. We’re all programmed according to a circadian rhythm, which doesn’t just affect our sleep –our bodies naturally want to burn calories during the day when we’re most active and store fat at night.
If you eat late in the day or hours after rising, you’re failing to tap into the metabolic boost you naturally get during the first half of the day. This is why you feel so hungry mid-morning on days you’re eating breakfast early.
Dealing with hunger
Feeling hungry every 3-4 hours is a good sign that you’re burning your food well. For this reason, the earlier you have your lunch, even in place of a late morning snack, the better it will be for your metabolic rate.
If you’re hungry at 11-11.30am, eat your lunch at that time. If you wait, you may end up bingeing on sweet foods at 3 or 4pm because your blood glucose will have dropped, which can leave you ravenous and prone to overeating.
Eating a balanced meal
Lunch also holds the key to nutritional balance. A meal that’s too low in carbohydrates, such as a tuna salad, can leave you vulnerable to sugar cravings later in the day.
On the other hand, a lunch such as white rice sushi or a Turkish bread sandwich can overload you on fuel and refined carbs, making it difficult to lose weight.
Achieving the right balance to support weight loss and control is relatively easy once you know the food mix to aim for.
The right mix of foods
To keep full for another 3-4 hours, you need at least 2-3 cups of salad and/or vegetables at lunch. Also include a decent serve of protein such as canned tuna, lean chicken breast, beef, beans or tofu.
The amount of carbs you need depends on your activity levels. If you sit down all day for work, just ½-¾ cup sweet potato, beans, brown rice, a slice of bread or a few crackers will be enough, while more active workers may need 1-2 cups.
Finally, don’t forget the good fat — olive oil dressing, nuts or avocado will help slow your digestion after lunch and keep you full.
In fact, studies show that those who include half an avocado with their lunch felt more satisfied and had lower blood glucose than those who don’t.