In today’s stressful and hectic world of work, more and more people feel like they do not have enough time to eat healthily. Grabbing a sandwich or the dish of the day in the canteen is often all they can manage. But this doesn’t have to be the case. In my nutrition workshops, I explain a few basic rules and give participants delicious and healthy ‘fast food’ recipes that they can make themselves.
Germans are better at healthy eating than their reputation would suggest. If we are to believe the latest 2018 nutrition study, published in January by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 92 percent of Germans consider healthy eating to be important. 72 percent eat fruit and vegetables every day, and 65 percent regularly consume cheese and dairy products. But despite these rather positive results, the number of obese and chronically ill people is rising year on year. Many people feel tired and exhausted after eating. It seems that they are not getting the energy that they need from their food.
Why is that?
In the workshops that I have been running for many years at various companies, I try to explain a few basic rules of nutrition. There is a particular lack of awareness when it comes to the link between diet and blood sugar levels. The first thing that people trying to eat healthily do is to reduce their intake of fat and protein. They tend to opt for carbohydrates such as bread, muesli, rice, pasta and potatoes. However, following this kind of diet means that they are doing the exact opposite of what they intended, i.e. eating healthily. That is because, often without realizing it, they are massively disrupting their blood sugar levels.
The wheat flour found in bread, pasta and cereals causes blood sugar levels to rise just as quickly as sugar. The body releases insulin to carry the sugar in the blood to the cells. This means that blood sugar levels fall just as rapidly as they rose due to the increased insulin production, which in turn leads to intense hunger pangs, prompting us to reach for another sandwich or pastry. One single pretzel has exactly the same effect as several sugar cubes.
How do different foods affect your blood sugar levels?
Do carbohydrates have a greater impact on your blood sugar levels than fats or protein? The size of the impact depends firstly on how they are prepared and secondly on the combinations of foods that are consumed. Some foods are known for their blood sugar-lowering properties, such as bran, grapefruit and cinnamon. Foods rich in fibre, on the other hand, take longer to digest in the stomach and intestines, and thus slow the intake of carbohydrates. The fat and protein content of foods also has an impact on your blood sugar levels.
The Flexi-Carb Pyramid is a diagram of the best way to combine foods for people who are overweight to a greater or lesser extent and have a sedentary lifestyle. The size of the different levels of the pyramid indicates how much of these foods should be eaten and how often.
The first level contains water-rich foods that fill you up such as vegetables, salad and low-sugar fruits. You should aim to eat five to seven portions of these a day as a healthy foundation. These foods have less of an effect on your blood sugar level and they are rich in fibre. For the best results, they should be combined with high-quality oils and fats such as olive oil, linseed oil and ghee.
The second level contains yoghurt, quark, eggs and lean sources of protein such as meat, poultry and fish. These foods stimulate the metabolism, prevent hunger pangs and help you feel fuller for longer. The third level contains foods such as cheese, nuts and pulses. They are extremely dense in energy and rich in nutrients, so should only be eaten in moderation.
Rice, pasta, bread, potatoes and sweetcorn are not off limits but they do contain a lot of carbohydrates, have a significant impact on your blood sugar levels and make you hungry. Cereal products made from refined flour, white rice, sweets and sweetened soft drinks are all likely to make you hungry quickly. They are the most likely to make you fat because they have a significant impact on blood glucose and insulin. These should only be eaten occasionally, as a treat, and in very small quantities.
Small steps are more sustainable than rules and banning foods
My intention with the workshops is not for participants to completely change their diet. After all, our quality of life has a lot to do with what we eat, and this should still be the case after changing our diet. In my experience, it doesn’t make any sense to change your diet drastically by banning foods and implementing rules to such an extent that it is not sustainable in the long term. Even though we all know that sugar is unhealthy, it is nice to have a cake or a piece of chocolate from time to time without feeling guilty. If you just incorporate a few elements into your day-to-day life, then there is always room to treat yourself to your favourite meal or a slice of cake.
Is there a difference for men and women?
Interestingly, men often see faster results than women after making changes to their diet. This is mainly down to the fact that they are more muscular and thus burn more fat. The general rule of thumb is: the less active muscle mass a body has, the less fat it burns. That is why women often lose weight more slowly despite their best efforts. This effect is reinforced by years of dieting because the body interprets a diet as a period of starvation, and during this period muscle is lost first. After the diet, the metabolic rate falls even further. That is why I advise those attending my seminars to also do strength training and to ensure that protein makes up 20–30 percent of their diet each day. It will help them to quickly rebuild muscle. If they already have well-developed muscles, these can be regenerated by consuming protein.
We should also talk about liquids. The best time to drink water is between meals. You should drink the bulk of your required water intake up to 15 minutes before eating and about an hour after each meal. It is recommended that you only consume a small amount with your meals as liquid dilutes your digestive juices and delays or prevents digestion. Your required fluid intake is based on your body weight, with the norm being 30 millilitres of liquid per kilogram of body weight.
I hope that you have fun and enjoy your healthy eating journey.