Lunch: The Most Important Meal of the Day
Your nutrition is defined by the answers to three simple questions:
- What do you eat?
- How do you eat?
- When do you eat?
While most conversations about nutrition focus on the first question, the “how” and “when” are just as important to our digestion and well-being.
With so many recommendations floating around, it can be hard to decide what meal pattern is best for you. Should you eat small, frequent meals? Should you fast? Should breakfast be the largest meal of the day?
By observing the traditions of the Mediterranean diet and studying the scientific research, you can glean a few basic observations about healthy meal planning. Unsurprisingly, these same patterns, which will be described below, are rooted in the ancient teachings of Ayurveda.
An Ayurvedic Approach to Meal Timing
Ayurveda recognizes the connection between the mind, the body, and the environment. In a balanced state, the body’s natural daily rhythms mirror those of the universe.
Agni, or digestive fire, is associated with the sun. In the morning, as the sun rises, digestion is not yet at its peak. This is a good time to have a light breakfast—recommendations include spiced, warm, and moist foods. Think warm cereal, cooked fruits, or chai tea or coffee with milk. When the sun is strongest, from 12 p.m. – 2 p.m., the body’s digestive fire is also the strongest. This is the best time to consume the largest proportion of daily nutrients. Similarly, when the sun sets, the heat of the digestive fire softens into a cool, calm period of rest-and-digest. This is an optimal time to refrain from eating and allow for restoration.
By following the rhythms of the sun, you help maintain balance in your body, which is consistent with the gold standard of Mediterranean meal patterns as well as scientific research.
The Mediterranean Diet
Research on nutrition is often conflicting. In addition to reviewing studies, it can be helpful to take a note from habits rooted in cultural tradition of the world’s most healthy populations.
A comparison of eating habits across 10 European countries found the following.
- Compared to central and northern Europe, the people in the Mediterranean regions of the south:
- Snack less
- Consume the largest percent of daily calories at lunch
- As you travel north up the European continent, people:
- Snack more
- Consume a smaller percent of daily calories at lunch
In a separate population-based study analyzing the prevalence of overweight and obesity in 16 European countries, the following trends were reported:
- Individuals in southern, Mediterranean Europe have the lowest body mass indexes (commonly referred to as BMIs—a measure of body fat based on one’s height and weight.)
- The percentage of overweight and obese individuals increases incrementally the further north you go on the continent.