How Nutrition can support Lifestyle Medicine

By: Keng-I Lin (Sophia)

Raffles Hotel Arcade and Star Vista
Posted on: 30 May 2024

There are 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine: nutrition, stress management, positive social connections, avoiding harmful substances, physical activity and restorative sleep. Obviously Nutrition is its own topic, but here I share my views on how the other 5 pillars are closely connected with nutrition. I have also included some tips on how to use nutrition to optimise each pillar. 

1. Stress  

Stress hormones regulate and can change our hunger and satiety regulations. Stress hormones also alter our ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Studies have demonstrated connection between insulin resistance, adipose tissue storage and cardiovascular disease risks with chronically elevated stress hormones. Stress is also known to cause indigestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.  

How to use nutrition to manage your stress:  

  1. Increase anti-inflammatory foods in your diet
  2. Increase high fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to help nourish gut bacteria
  3. Take deep breaths before and after meals, chew slowly and try to sit down and take time to enjoy your meals  
  4. Eat at regular times   

2. Positive Social Connections 

Meaningful connections and a sense of belonging have been shown to benefit our metabolic health. The type of activities and food choices we make are greatly influenced by the people around us. One study from the United States, tracked two groups. One group received nutrition education on the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables. The other group experienced peer influence by those around them eating and ordering more fruit and vegetables. The group under peer influence ate significantly more fruit and vegetables than the counterpart group.  

How to promote positive social connection in life through nutrition:  

  1. Give friends and family whole food-based treats   
  2. Prioritise eating with friends and enjoy the experience through positive conversations and eating meaningfully
  3. Remember to be a good influence amongst friends and start eating more fruit and vegetables (order more side vegetables, such as sauteed spinach and roasted cauliflower to share)  

3. Excessive Harmful Substances  

Smoking increases the incidence of multiple health issues, including peptic ulcers. Patients commonly experience iron-deficiency anaemia. Excessive amounts of alcohol may lead to nutrient deficiency of folate, vitamin B6, thiamine, and vitamin A. Alcohol also disrupts sleep (most often around the 4-hour mark after consumption).   

How nutrition can recover damages from harmful substances:

  1. Increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods – especially when you have a history of smoking or are currently trying to reduce the amount you smoke
  2. Fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables, which are generally high in vitamin A, C, E, can repair the oxidative damage
  3. Leafy greens and whole grains contain nutrients that are commonly deficient in alcoholism
  4. Drink iced sparkling water or alcohol-free beverages after 1-2 alcoholic drinks at events and gatherings. Be more mindful of the total amount and timing of your alcohol intake

4. Physical Activity

Being active has been linked with better physical and mental health. It is recommended to incorporate at least 150 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) of physical activity into your week. This includes weight bearing exercise twice a week plus some high intensity training.

‘Blue zone’ studies have linked longevity with daily low intensity physical movement, such as walking, hiking, chores or housework. Studies also indicate that to prevent fractures, balancing exercises are important, for example, standing with one foot. Macronutrients might need to be increased for high level of energy expenditure in individuals who are growing or at a leaner body mass. Micronutrients need to be increased to aid in proper repair from micro-tears and tissue inflammation. The latest research in sports nutrition has found some amazing discoveries such as carbohydrate contact in oral cavities can result in better performance and protein from whole foods, such as milk are utilised at a higher rate than when  eaten in isolated forms, such as whey powder.

How to optimise for an active lifestyle and prevent injury with nutrition:

  1. Hydration, weigh yourself right before exercise, weigh yourself after exercise, and drink an equal amount of water. For example, for someone who weighs 55 kg before and 55.4 kg after working out, drink 600ml of water.
  2. Keep well-fueled before and during exercise, provide enough calories to match the activity’s intensity. Inadequate calories result in fatigue, depression, and lack of appetite. Therefore, it’s important to have enough caloric intake.
  3. Increase anti-inflammatory foods to aid repair after exercise.
  4. Adjust protein intake and timing based on body weight and the type and intensity of exercises. Generally, for weightlifting sessions, 20g protein before, immediately after, and 1 hour after workout can be beneficial for muscle building.

5. Sleep

Being too full, from eating high fat foods close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. Not having enough complex carbohydrates at dinner is linked with a longer time to reach REM sleep. Increased caloric intakes are common in people who do not get enough sleep.

How to increase sleep quality through nutrition:

  1. Avoid alcohol consumption at least 4 hours before bedtime
  2. Include complex carbohydrates in the evening
  3. Avoid high fat or a large quality of food 3 hours before bed 
  4. Have a 12-hour fasting window overnight to allow your digestive system to rest.  

 In summary, the 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine can all be positively affected through good nutritional habits. As a dietitian, it is clear to me how small changes can positively affect one’s overall health. If you wish to discuss how your food intake can be used to protect your physical and mental health please make an appointment today,  

Keng-I Lin (Sophia) is a Taiwanese and USA-trained dietician which many years of experience in guiding patients towards healthful eating. If you would like to book an appointment with Sophia – please book here.  


Raffles Hotel Arcade Star Vista