What A Nurse Practitioner Eats In A Day For Optimal Metabolic Health
As a cardiology nurse practitioner for over 10 years, it's safe to say Cynthia Thurlow, N.P., has always been interested in metabolic health. But it wasn't until she experienced perimenopausal weight loss resistance herself that she really saw just how important it was for her overall well-being.
"It was, in many ways, the missing piece of the puzzle," she shares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
Now, Thurlow approaches metabolic health from multiple angles: eating enough quality protein, strength training, prioritizing sleep, and practicing intermittent fasting. (She has since become a globally recognized expert in the latter, as well as women's health.)
Of course, optimal metabolic health involves way more than changes to your diet. But nutrition does make up a significant chunk of the equation—so here, find Thurlow's favorite metabolism-boosting menu:
"I do think it's important to have bitter foods," Thurlow says. Whether it's bitter greens, black tea, or coffee, she always has some sort of bitter staple. "It sends important signals to our bodies about fat oxidation, digestion, etc1.," she adds.
But because bitter foods are, well, bitter, it can be difficult to find the motivation to eat them every single day—even for Thurlow, who is well aware of their many health benefits. "I don't love drinking [bitter] tea, but I do have tea every day because it sends important information to my body," she shares. "I've learned to ice it and drink it with a straw, and that works really well."
Everyone's bodies are different, and you should always stick to what works for your unique palette and lifestyle. Case in point? Thurlow doesn't fare too well with animal-based fats.
"It is part of my innate bio-individuality that I do best with lighter plant-based fats," she notes. "I do better with coconut oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds…" She can tolerate a little bit of ghee or butter, but animal-based fats tend to be too heavy for her body. "I just don't do well. It's almost like I have a brick in my stomach," she recounts. "I've been that way my whole life."
That said, she does make sure to get healthy fats through plant-based sources, like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, etc. Again, everyone is different, but it's a good lesson that you don't have to indulge in certain superfoods if they don't work well for your own body.
As for protein, Thurlow adopts what she calls a "wildatarian" approach. Meaning, "being open-minded to different types of animal-based protein," she explains. Think grass-fed bison, elk, and wild boar, in addition to standard pork, beef, chicken, and fish options.
Essentially, she recommends getting diverse protein sources in your meals. "Monogamy is a good thing, but in terms of food monogamy, we want to have some variety—that's important," she adds.
Bananas & berries
Thurlow doesn't demonize fruit. "If you are metabolically healthy, you can get away with a piece of fruit," she notes. As a general rule, she recommends a ratio of one piece of fruit to three types of vegetables.
As for her favorite fruits, she's a fan of brightly pigmented berries, which are associated with metabolic benefits2. But you might be surprised to find out that Thurlow also loves bananas.
Other metabolic health experts say bananas can spike blood sugar, and they totally can for some—again, everyone's body is different, and Thurlow actually finds them to have little impact on her glucose levels.
"I'm weird. I like bananas when they go from being green to just barely a little bit yellow. It's essentially a less-ripened banana," she shares. "I've worn continuous glucose monitors for almost two years, and I don't get a massive blood sugar response to the bananas." We suspect it has something to do with their less-ripened stage since bananas do get sweeter as they ripen.
You should always eat whatever works best with your individual body's needs, but if you're looking for some menu inspiration, try adding some of Thurlow's staples to your plate. At the end of the day, she encourages having options: "[You don't want] to eat the same chicken, broccoli, and white rice every day, three times a day," she says. "Your body really genuinely does better having some variety."
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Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.