When it comes to eating healthfully, it’s about more than choosing the proper foods. Timing is everything. Erratic eating habits or skipping a meal will cause hormone havoc and undermine energy levels.

It all starts with the body’s inherent processes. Nature designed the body to have a short-term energy storage mix called glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles, and is used by the body and brain to fuel the millions of biochemical processes while you sleep. When you wake up, your body produces the hormone neuropeptide Y (NPY), which is at its highest level at 7:00 am. Neuropeptide Y sparks the appetite for complex carbohydrates to replenish the depleted "short-term" fuel storage levels drained while sleeping.

A body that has exhausted the last of its glycogen fuel supplies will struggle to meet the demands of the day and will release the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. Stress, in turn, automatically triggers production and activity of the hormones NPY (carbohydrate-craving) and galanin (fat-craving)–both powerful brain chemicals that instantly spark your appetite. This increases your cravings for processed carbohydrates and fats, leading to overeating and unwanted weight gain from easily accessible processed foods.

Start the Day Right

A breakfast that is 60 percent complex carbohydrates, 30 percent bio-available protein and 10 percent fat balances your appetite control centre, restores your glycogen levels and diminishes NPY levels. It also raises your dopamine (feel alert) and DHEA (high enthusiasm, vibrant energy) hormones so your mood is balanced but elevated.

Cholecystokinin is released from the protein in the stomach and intestines, sending a message of complete satiation to your brain. Insulin levels are balanced and you feel full, energetic, alert and bright for four full hours.

Stay-Sharp Lunch

Lunch is the meal to emphasize low-density carbohydrates that are minimally processed, as well as lean proteins containing the amino acid tyrosine, which makes the "stay sharp" hormone dopamine. High dopamine levels in the early afternoon keep us alert, vigilant, motivated and able to energetically compete with success.

The ideal lunch would be two cups of organic green tea, followed 15 minutes later by a crisp salad with extra-virgin olive oil, two servings of vegetables steamed "crunchy tender" and a lean source of protein. If salad or vegetable selections are marginal, you can quickly mix a "green drink" in water or unsweetened juice to get all your vegetable nutrients. A "green drink" is high in phosphatidyl choline and phosphatidyl serine for a neurological brain boost and for clear, focused, elevated mental acuity all afternoon.

Smart Supper

The ideal dinner should total about 500 calories and contain twice as much complex carbohydrates as lean protein. The carbohydrate choices can be whole grains such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, kamut, wild rice, brown rice, baked yam, baked sweet potato, colourful salads, squashes, whole grain pastas or breads, or soba noodles. The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio favours complex carbohydrates at dinner. The fat source should be from fish oils, hemp oil or olive oil.

Complex carbohydrates are necessary to fill your glycogen storage tanks, to supply the brain and millions of nighttime metabolic processes with the fuel-mix blood glucose, so you can have an uninterrupted sleep without the urge to refuel midway through the night.

The "feel good" hormone serotonin rises from the complex carbohydrates and low protein eaten at dinner, leaving you satisfied, tranquil and calm. Neuropeptide Y levels decline as do galanin (fat-craving) levels, which curbs your appetite.

Time to Rest

Never eat past 7:30 pm. This will allow insulin levels to decline by 10:00 pm, when we are ready for deep sleep. If you eat after 7:30 pm, rising insulin levels will drive down both melatonin and human growth hormone levels. This promotes a poor night’s sleep, which contributes to accelerated aging and promotes a catabolic decline.

Serotonin levels turn into melatonin in the pineal gland during the first hour of sleep. Melatonin puts you into a deep sleep state and ignites your growth hormone to help you rejuvenate, renew, rebuild and restore your 100 trillion cells.

When making food decisions, remember that what you eat directly and indirectly influences your energy levels, moods, food cravings, stress levels, sleep habits and inherited genetic traits. So choose wisely!

About the Author

Sam Graci is a renowned lecturer, consultant, researcher and formulator in the field of optimal human health and nutrition. He is the author of the Canadian best-seller The Power of Superfoods and his new book, The Food Connection.