Personalized Nutrition for Metabolic Health by Functional Nutritionist Andrea Nicholson

Personalized Nutrition for Metabolic Health

Personalizing your nutrition is vital for optimal metabolic health and weight maintenance. There is no one perfect approach that fits everyone since each individual has unique needs and preferences when it comes to food. By customizing your eating plan, you can discover the secret to long-term success. 
Today we are diving into the various factors that play a role in personalizing nutrition, such as identifying your personal carbohydrate threshold, determining meal frequency and timing, and considering other factors to find the perfect eating plan for you. 

Your Carbohydrate Threshold

When it comes to carbohydrates, finding your personal carbohydrate threshold is important. Carbohydrates have a direct impact on blood sugar levels and insulin response. By monitoring and becoming self-aware, you can identify your carbohydrate tolerance. If you exceed your carbohydrate tolerance, you can develop insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances.  If you already have insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances, staying under your personal threshold is key to healing.  You can find your personal carb threshold by observing your body’s response to different types and amounts of carbohydrates.

My favorite way to do this is with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).  This is a small sensor worn on the arm for up to 2 weeks at a time.  This sensor monitors your blood sugars 24 hours a day for 14 days.  This gives you real-time feedback on how your body responds to specific foods and activities.  These sensors used to be reserved only for people with type 1 diabetes or those with serious type 2 diabetes, but now they are more readily available for anyone who wants one (though it likely won’t be covered by insurance).  I’d be happy to help you get a continuous glucose monitor.  If you’d like me to help interpret your data and make suggested changes, schedule a free Holistic Health Strategy Session with me. If you want to self-monitor your data, you can buy your sensors here.

If you aren’t going to get a CGM, you can also pay attention to how your energy levels, mood, and cravings change based on the carbohydrates you consume. Of course, not all carbs are created equal.  A simple sugar (like candy or fruit juice) will be absorbed much quicker than a complex carbohydrate like a sweet potato or vegetable.  You will likely find different types of carbs react differently in your body – some leaving you hungry and tired, some feel just fine.  

Meal frequency

There are different approaches from grazing all day, eating every couple of hours or more structured meals-only eating.  Within that, there are various intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating schedules that can work for different people.

For most people I’ve worked with, grazing all day or eating every couple of hours is generally not serving them.  This eating schedule causes several problems. First, every time you eat your blood sugar rises some (how much depends on what you ate).  With this rise in blood sugar, comes a rise in insulin. When insulin rises, your body is in energy storage mode – converting extra fuels into stored forms of either glycogen or fat. If you’re constantly eating, your insulin levels never drop enough to start using those fuels.  This makes weight loss nearly impossible because you can only burn what you’re taking in (not any of the body fat you want to get rid of).

Second, eating all the time not only confuses your hunger signals, making you feel hungry all the time, but you also end up always thinking about food. 
When I was following this schedule of eating every couple of hours, I found myself thinking about my next meal or snack while currently eating!  This created cravings and obsessive thoughts about food.  This requires packing and carrying food with you everywhere you go, generating extra work load, I’m guessing you don’t need.  

I find that most of my clients (and myself included) do best on some version of meals only (no snacks).  This may be three square meals a day, two meals, or even one meal some days.  It’s important to explore these options and find the pattern that suits you best. Three meals a day is a traditional approach that provides structure and routine. Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting, which can promote metabolic flexibility and fat burning.

If you are currently someone who is eating all day long or every couple of hours, start slowly by reducing the frequency of snacks.  Then, once you’re at meals only, you can work on adjusting the schedule to find the best schedule for your body and life.  Initially your body may feel extra hungry – that’s because you’ve trained it to expect food every few hours!  As long as you’re not shaky, weak, or dizzy, you’re probably OK. You can always check your blood sugar to be sure you’re not dropping too low.  A basic glucose meter can be purchased from any local pharmacy for relatively cheap.  

Meal timing

Our bodies have a natural rhythm known as the circadian rhythm, which influences metabolism and nutrient utilization. If you align your meals with your body’s natural energy fluctuations and digestive capacity you can optimize metabolic function. We have different needs for energy intake early in the day than we do at night. 
If you think about how our ancient ancestors would have eaten, it would have been during daylight hours – when you can easily see to forage or hunt.  We didn’t consume foods during dark hours before the advent of artificial light.  Mostly, these habits changed with the addition of refrigeration and environmental control. The more we can stick to our natural rhythms, the better our digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall body systems will operate.  Eating too close to bedtime not only interferes with digestion, but digestion also interferes with sleep.  When we are sleep deprived, we crave more junk foods, have less control over our choices, and have worse metabolic health.  

Macronutrient Ratios

Along with finding your carbohydrate tolerance, we also need to find the proper balance of protein and healthy fast.  Many people thrive on a lower carbohydrate intake, while others may do better with a moderate or higher intake. A lot of this depends on your activity level, your body composition, and your current metabolic health. Your ideal macronutrient ratio can change throughout your life as these factors change.  Experiment with different carbohydrate levels and notice how your body responds in terms of energy, satiety, and blood sugar control.

Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair (which includes your organs), hormones, enzymes, and bone health. The recommended intake depends on factors such as activity level, types of activity, and your goals.

Healthy fats are vital for hormone production, brain function, satiety, and flavor. Incorporate a variety of fats, such as animal fats, avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, to support metabolic health and promote satiety.  Protein is also best absorbed with fat, so be sure to eat fat with your protein.  

Lifestyle, activity level, and energy expenditure vary from person to person. For example, individuals with physically demanding jobs or those who engage in regular intense workouts may have higher calorie and nutrient needs. Assess your own activity level and adjust your calorie intake and macronutrient distribution accordingly. 

Other aspects to consider

Additionally, identifying food sensitivities and intolerances is important as they can impact metabolic health. Common culprits include gluten, grains, conventional cow dairy, processed soy, and specific food additives (like colors, sweeteners, and preservatives). Keep a food diary and track how different foods make you feel. If you suspect certain foods are causing negative reactions, consider eliminating them temporarily and reintroducing them one by one to identify any triggers. Most people do well by consuming most or all whole foods that don’t have ingredient labels.  This eliminates additives and all problems associated with refined foods.  

Psychological and emotional factors, such as stress and emotional eating, should also be considered as they influence eating habits and food choices. Mindful eating practices, stress management techniques, and seeking support from a healthcare professional or therapist can help address these factors.

To create a personalized eating plan, it may be beneficial to work with a professional nutritionist, like myself. We can help tailor a nutrition plan to your specific needs and goals. This can also help you address any specific health concerns or conditions you may have, such as diabetes, insulin resistance, hypertension, and other metabolic disorders

While I’m not a big fan of long term, obsessive tracking, temporary tracking and monitoring your foods, schedule, and symptoms can help to fine-tune your approach. I also recommend regular check-ins with your healthcare professional to have comprehensive lab work done to monitor your overall health.  This can provide insights into your nutrient status, inflammation, immune system, blood sugar handling, and more for making adjustments.  As your needs and goals evolve, it’s important to adapt your eating plan accordingly.

To wrap this up, personalizing your nutrition for metabolic health and weight maintenance is a powerful tool on your journey to optimal well-being. By understanding your personal carbohydrate threshold, determining your ideal meal frequency and timing, considering individual factors, and working with a qualified professional, you can create an eating plan that supports your unique needs and goals. Remember, finding the right approach may require some trial and error, and it’s essential to listen to your body’s cues along the way. Seek professional guidance, stay consistent, and celebrate the progress you make on this personalized path to lifelong health and vitality.


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