A nutritionist's hour-by-hour guide to supercharge your diet

Small tweaks to your daily routine can make a big difference to your health.
Small tweaks to your daily routine can make a big difference to your health. Photo: iStock

If you are into nutrition, you know there is a raft of information out there to help you count your carbs and check off your daily fruit and vegetable targets.

As in any industry, though, there are various tricks of the trade that nutrition experts tap into to improve their own health. They know the easy shortcuts, health-giving hacks and essential daily habits that put the latest science into practice at the times of day they will have the maximum impact.

Here is my hour-by-hour guide to supercharging your approach to health.

Matcha tea pictured with oat milk and ingredients on pink background. Generic Istock image downloaded for Susie Burrell story on how to supercharge your diet hour by hour. Good Food April 2021.

Matcha is a perfect pre-walk cuppa. Photo: iStock

6am

Kick off with matcha

A type of green tea powder made from roasted tea leaves, matcha is especially rich in antioxidants, will help rehydrate you after the night's sleep, and is perfect to enjoy before a brisk walk as it has been shown to slightly increase the amount of fat being metabolised.

Move your body

As we age, metabolic rate reduces, a result of both increasingly sedentary lifestyles and a general reduction in the amount of muscle mass we have, making weight gain common.

To help keep on top of these weight increases, start each day with a 20-minute walk or light workout, which is a great way to give your metabolism a much-needed boost while also increasing appetite so you are hungry for breakfast.

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Adults need to make at least 10,000 steps a day at a minimum for good health, and starting the day with 2000-3000 steps is a solid contribution to this target.

7am

Hydrate

Many of us walk around dehydrated, especially in the first half of the day. Back up your morning exercise regime with a big glass of water, and if you opt for ice water, you will burn extra kilojoules as the body's internal temperature regulator needs to work a little harder to metabolise extremely cold foods.

Nourish your gut

Gut health is where things are at in nutritional science right now, and while there are many gut health supplements available, a fermented whole food such as kefir is a great morning breakfast addition.

Containing probiotics as well as a range of nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, a daily shot of kefir (in milk or water form) will help to nourish your gut from the inside.

The brunch plate with smoked salmon served at Mrs Underwoods Larder in Stanmore, Sydney on March 6, 2019. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Eggs and smoked salmon are protein-rich breakfast additions. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

8am

Break the fast

Contrary to popular belief, especially since fasting regimes have been in vogue, for many of us it remains important to kickstart metabolism after the overnight fast with a protein-rich meal: two eggs, 100 grams of salmon or a serve of whey or pea isolate protein powder as part of your breakfast meal will supply two to three grams of the amino acid leucine, which has been shown to help control insulin levels, and as a result appetite through the morning.

In addition, some whole fresh fruit or a serve of wholegrains via a dense grain bread or low-sugar oat or granola mix will offer dietary fibre to help support digestive comfort and gut health. Oats mixed with fruit, eggs on a slice of wholegrain toast, or a warm breakfast bowl with salmon are all excellent breakfast options.

Enjoy your favourite cuppa

Never fear, your favourite coffee is still on the menu.

Opting for a piccolo or small coffee will give you a nice 100mg hit of caffeine to keep your brain firing for an hour or two.

Even better is to enjoy your coffee with dairy or fortified soy milk to tick the box on a serve of calcium to support bone health.

10am

Time to move

Human bodies are not programmed to sit for long periods of time, and aiming to not sit for longer than two hours at a time is a good goal.

If it is sunny outside, take a quick walk and get a much-needed vitamin D boost, as up to 25 per cent of Australian adults have low vitamin D levels, especially through winter.

Fresh beet juice in glass. Healthy detox diet. Generic Istock image downloaded for Susie Burrell story on how to supercharge your diet hour by hour. Good Food April 2021.

Swap your second coffee for beetroot juice. Photo: iStock

Beet it

Mid-morning is a popular time for a second coffee, but instead seek out a vegetable-based juice or, even better, a beetroot juice.

Vegetable juices are largely water, hence a great option for hydration, but beetroot in particular is packed full of antioxidants, has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, and has been shown to improve blood flow and help reduce blood pressure.

Close-up of a woman's hands holding a large vegetarian sandwich. Chef holding super vegan sandwich. Close-up of a woman's hands holding a large vegetarian sandwich. 
iStock image downloaded under the Good Food team account (contact syndication for reuse permissions).

Rye bread is a healthy choice. Photo: alvarez

12pm

Forget leaving lunch until 2pm or 3pm. The earlier your lunch, the better for your blood glucose regulation.

Opt for a lunch mix that contains a protein base such as chicken, turkey, lean meat or legumes, as these foods are a rich source of the amino acid tryptophan, known for its mood-boosting benefits.

Team your protein with a controlled portion of fibre-rich, wholegrain carbohydrate for sustained energy. Rye-based options including rye sourdough or rye-based crackers are a rich source of prebiotic fibres, the type of fibre that feeds the good bacteria in the gut and is associated with improved digestive function.

Time for some more steps

The best time to move through the day is after you have eaten, to help promote glucose update in the muscles, and support digestion.

A quick 10 to 20-minute stroll is all you need to help prevent the tired, lethargic feeling that can plague many of us after lunch.

Aim for another 2000-3000 steps to move closer to your daily goal of 10,000-12,000.

2pm

Go for some clear caffeine

The period an hour or so after lunch is the perfect time for another light caffeine hit, and opting for a clear green or black tea will help to keep any sugar cravings under control and give you that subtle hit of energy many of us seek out at this time of day.

From a cognitive perspective, green tea is a particularly good choice, with a growing number of studies showing that it appears to have a positive effect on memory as well as a number of cardiovascular benefits.

If you are a little peckish, teaming your warm drink with some antioxidant-rich blueberries will give you an extra dose of anthocyanins, a group of polyphenols associated with improvements in brain signalling and memory that provide dietary fibre with very few kilojoules.

3pm

Time to refuel

The beauty of enjoying an early lunch means that your body will be ready for a refuel come 3pm, and eating before your blood glucose levels have dropped and you are extremely hungry will help to prevent late-afternoon binges.

Mid-afternoon is a perfect time to enjoy some nutrient-rich nuts, as fewer than 5 per cent of adults consume the daily recommended 30 grams of nuts for optimal health.

Specifically, 10 walnuts will give you an added omega-3 boost, while for men and boys, adding a couple of Brazil nuts will tick the box on your daily selenium intake, important for prostate health.

Team your nuts with some yoghurt, or a couple of wholegrain crackers with cheese or nut spread, or a small protein-based snack bar for energy. Alternatively, there are worse things you could do than sneak a couple of squares of dark chocolate.

Good Food. Hot Food. Kale chips July 1st. Photo: Edwina Pickles. 5th June 2014.
Photographic – Tue, 11. December 2018 12:00 AMI15F9688 316.JPGGood Food. Hot Food. Kale chips July 1st. Photo: Edwina Pickles. 5th June 2014.

Bake your own kale chips. Photo: Edwina Pickles

5pm

Load up on veg

Many of us finish work ravenous and reaching for dip, crackers, cheese and wine, often succumbing to a complete kilojoule overload before dinner.

For this reason, having an apple or chopped veg such as carrots, cucumber, radish or capsicum to munch in the late afternoon will help to keep this type of binge eating under control.

In fact, if eye health is of interest, orange capsicum in particular is a rich source of the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which has been shown to help prevent macular degeneration.

Alternatively, if you are at home, cooking up a batch of your own kale chips with some extra virgin olive oil will increase your intake of leafy greens.

A bone broth-based clear soup is exceptionally low in calories and linked to improved immune function, thanks to the presence of carnosine, a molecule directly involved in immune cell activation.

6pm

Reach for the sparkling

For those who enjoy an alcoholic drink after work, it can be easy to fall into a habit of working through a bottle of wine on more nights than not. The more alcohol you consume over time, the more you will need it to relax, and from a kilojoule perspective, consuming two to three standard drinks each evening translates into almost an entire meal worth of kilojoules.

Reaching for a glass of sparking water when you knock off not only helps to break the habit of grabbing an alcoholic drink, but will also help to reduce your overall intake as your drinking shifts from autopilot to a more mindful decision later in the evening.

Aiming to enjoy just one alcoholic drink every 40 to 60 minutes will further help control your intake and keep it within the recommended 10 standard drinks each week.

7pm

Go light at night

The lighter yet more nutrient-dense your evening meal, and the earlier you enjoy it, the better it will be for digestion and weight control.

Nutrient-rich meals include seafood such as shellfish or salmon two or three times a week to help ensure an adequate intake of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, especially if you also consume the skin of the fish, which is one of the richest sources of omegas.

Alternatively, choosing a palm-sized piece of lean red meat a couple of times a week will help ensure you are getting enough iron, which is crucial for immune function and energy production.

Adding at least three to four different vegetables to your evening meal will mean you are getting the seven to 10 serves of fresh fruit and vegetables a day that is encouraged in the especially healthy Mediterranean diet.

Finally, a strong habit to form is to end your meal in the way many Europeans do, with some fresh salad leaves and extra virgin olive oil. Leafy greens including kale and broccolini are exceptionally rich sources of the anti-cancer molecules called glucosinolates, and teaming them with fresh Australian olive oil will help improve their flavour and add an extra serve of antioxidants to the mix.

8pm

Move a little

One of the best things we can do for blood glucose control and to aid digestion is to move for at least 20 minutes after a meal.

This could translate to cleaning up after dinner or even going for a stroll around the block, and avoiding the couch will also help put an end to the sugar cravings that can plague us after the evening meal.

9pm

Cheese please

In an ideal world, few of us would eat after dinner, but instead of reaching for the chocolate, ice-cream or biscuits, a much better option is to end the day with a slice or two of cheese and a couple of seeded crackers.

Here the rich cheese will help to re-mineralise the teeth after dinner and offer an extra serve of calcium for healthy bones, while the seeded crackers are a relatively low carbohydrate option that will still satisfy any sugar cravings.

Adding in a caffeine-free black or herbal tea is a perfect end to a day dedicated to optimising your health and wellbeing.

Susie Burrell is an accredited practising dietitian