Have you ever asked yourself if you eat well compared to your friends, family or work colleagues? Do you know you need to change your eating habits but don’t know where to start?
Well, in today’s blog we explain what’s wrong with the typical Western diet and outline 7 simple steps that you can take to get your nutrition in tip-top shape.
Good nutrition, that is nutrition for optimal body composition (fat loss, muscle gain), optimal health, or optimal performance (for sport or everyday activities) usually requires a move away from the typical Western dietary habits and a move toward more nutritious, dietary patterns.
The Average Western Diet
To shed some light on what we mean by a ‘Typical Western Diet’, let's consider for a moment how the average Western human tends to live each nutritional day.
Doesn’t wake up early enough. Our typical person wakes up too close to when they have to leave for work, leaving little time to prepare, eat, and digest a good meal before work. Also, our typical person complains that they're "not hungry" in the morning.
Eats a nutritionally poor breakfast – or skips it entirely. Our typical person opts for shovelling down a quick, fast digesting breakfast that's low in calories, missing a significant protein portion, low in micronutrients and phytochemicals, low in good fats, and rich in processed carbohydrates.
Doesn’t eat enough in the morning. Our typical person therefore heads off to work relatively poorly fed.
Doesn’t eat a quality snack in the morning. Our typical person is fairly inconsistent with his/her mid-morning snacks. Also, "snack" usually means more calorie dense processed carbs and sugar without much in the way of nutrient dense fruits and veggies, quality protein, or good fats.
Reaches for a highly processed lunch. Our typical person, during his/her lunch break, opts for a small amount of protein between a few slices of processed bread. So again, we're stuck with low protein, low fruit and veggie intake, and very little good fats.
Doesn’t eat a quality snack in the afternoon. Our typical person is fairly inconsistent with his/her mid-afternoon snacks. Also, "snack" usually means more processed carbs and sugar without much in the way of fruits and veggies, quality protein, or good fats.
Eats a decent dinner. Assuming dinner is eaten at home, after work, our typical person has a decent, nutritionally balanced dinner with a good protein source, good carbohydrates, their first larger fruit and veggie portion of the day, and perhaps even some good fats if they've included olive oil or other sources of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.
Doesn’t eat a quality snack before bed. After their evening activities, our typical person is inconsistent with their pre-bed snacks. These snacks, if they do eat them, usually are the worst of the day, consisting of larger servings of sweets or processed foods.
How to Transition From an Unhealthy Diet to a Nutritious One
So, what’s wrong with that? Well, a number of things:
- Breakfast has been shown to be a critical daily meal. After a catabolic (meaning breaking down) overnight fast, a balanced breakfast helps to regulate blood sugar, helps to regulate energy balance, and helps to control late-day cravings that lead to overfeeding on processed, high fat, and high sugar foods. In both cases above, breakfast is either a very small meal or is completely non-existent. This needs to change.
- The bulk of total dietary energy is distributed later in the day. What this means is that hourly energy balance is hugely negative in the morning, and positive in the evening. Studies demonstrate that hourly energy balance is at least as important as total daily energy balance and should remain as close to neutral as possible throughout each of the 24 hours. This means a better distribution of calories throughout the entire day – not just loading up on a big dinner.
- In the case of our example above, by lunch our individual is likely underfed in total and often underfed in protein. As discussed above, energy intake needs to be better distributed through the day.
- Fruit and veggie intake, as well as protein intake, is very low until dinnertime. Just as total calorie distribution should be spread evenly throughout the day, so should macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) and micronutrient intake.
- With blood amino acid concentrations low from the overnight fast and continually low throughout the early day, catabolic conditions will predominate in the body, making recovery from and adaptation to exercise difficult without a higher morning and early afternoon protein intake.
- Throughout the morning and afternoon, vitamin and mineral intake as well as dietary antioxidant intake is quite low, creating a deficit that'll be hard to make up later in the day. A fair number of athletes and recreational exercisers have been shown to be deficient in a host of vitamins and minerals, leading to impairments in nervous system function, metabolic processing, and oxygen delivery/consumption. It's hard to get the requisite amount of vitamins and minerals in only one or two meals. Now, this doesn't mean that people should start popping multi-vitamins left, right and centre. It means they need to get more fruits and vegetables as well as other micronutrient dense foods with every feeding, not just with one or two feedings per day.
- Many individuals who don't actively pay attention to their protein intake tend to get too little protein for optimal recovery, preservation of lean body mass, and for the metabolic advantages associated with higher protein intake. Now, this doesn't mean at the expense of good carbs and good fats. It's in addition to those things. Most people are getting a good, high protein dinner, but it's difficult to take in enough total protein in only one or two protein rich meals.
- For both the physically active and even the sedentary individuals discussed above, dietary fat intake is usually out of balance in favour of saturated fat. Without actively choosing foods and supplements that contain mono and polyunsaturated fatty acid, fat balance is unfavourable.
In our example above, our typical person isn’t getting enough good fats.
- With most of the meals above being rich in simple, processed carbs, the hormone insulin isn't well controlled. This means that individuals predisposed to fat gain will have a more difficult time controlling and/or losing body fat, even with higher training volumes.
- With most of the meals above being rich in simple, low-fibre carbs, not enough dietary fibre is being ingested. This may mean constipation, poor blood sugar regulation, and poor GI health.
- Our individual above isn't actively taking advantage of the post-exercise improvement in insulin sensitivity and boost in post-exercise protein synthesis by eating carb and amino acid-rich foods right after exercise (assuming they have exercised).
With all of these dietary limitations, it should be clear that although these individuals aren't dying of malnutrition, they're certainly not laying the groundwork for great body composition, health and performance.
So, let's talk about how to transition from the average diet to a nutritious one. It’s easy to get on track. Follow these seven steps and you’ll be well on your way:
Step 1: Improve your workout and post-workout nutrition. Bring that Bodyhero protein & carb shake to the gym with you and sip it before and after your workout.
Step 2: Eat a better breakfast every day. Eat a good breakfast every morning with protein, healthy fats, and ideally some vegetables. Never skip breakfast. Bodyhero powder provides a quick and convenient way to boost your protein and fibre content by adding it to your breakfast shake, smoothie (bowl) or cereal.
Step 3: Add good fats to your meals. Add some extra-virgin olive oil, walnuts, or flaxseed oil to your salads, and supplement with algae oil.
Step 4: Pack a better lunch. Forget the sandwich. Make yourself a good, solid meal, complete with lean protein, healthy fats and vegetables.
Step 5: Make yourself a great dinner. Dinner is your chance to eat a delicious, healthy meal. It’s generally the only meal most people have plenty of time to cook, so make the best of it.
Step 6: Eat more veggies and fruits. You don’t eat enough vegetables. We know that, because almost no-one does. Add more and you’ll start noticing the improvements to your health, performance and body composition right away. And don’t fear fruit either – it’s a healthy, nutritious way to add sweetness to your diet, important since you should aim to eliminate nearly all other sugars.
Step 7: Eat good snacks between the three traditional meals. Forget the standard “three meals a day” rule. Eat three snacks a day, one after each traditional meal. They too have to have good protein, good fats, veggies and fruits; things like a Bodyhero protein bar with a piece of fruit is ideal. And if you have the time, make a real meal! The important thing is that you eat well and eat often: every two to three hours, for a total of six or more meals/snacks per day. And remember that Bodyhero provides an ideal support tool in helping you achieve a more balanced, nutritious diet. High in protein with a convenient 20g per serving, and rich in satiating fibre from chicory root, with low sugar, it’s the perfect breakfast addition, post workout recovery or snack for when you need to fill the gap.
So, there you go. Follow these simple steps to shift from being the traditional Westerner to Nutritious in no time.