The old maxim ‘you are what you eat’ could be superseded by another: ‘you are when you eat.’
Two new studies published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society seeking to examine the effects that our eating patterns have on our health show that the times of the day when we eat can have an adverse effect on our overall health. It’s not uncommon for most of us in our busy day-to-day lives to skip out on a meal. Maybe you forget breakfast, but make up for it with a slightly bigger lunch?
According to researchers from King’s College London, who analysed data from a number of dietary studies, eating at irregular times can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
One of the studies examined the differences in global eating patterns made a link between obesity and consuming food after 6pm, while the other states that people who have consistent meals each day had lower insulin levels and lower cholesterol.
Their findings suggest that by eating inconsistently our body clock and its circadian rhythms struggle to adjust to our seemingly random eating times. Most metabolic processes in the body follow a circadian rhythm and work with many major organs. Our internal clocks rely on the light-dark of the 24-hour cycle. If people are leaning towards eating later at night – as is customary across Europe – then this could have severe consequences.
“We found that adults consuming calories during regular meals—at similar times from one day to [the] next—were less obese than people who have irregular meals, despite consuming more calories overall,” says Gerda Pot, PhD, a visiting lecturer in the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London who worked on both papers.
“Whilst we have a much better understanding today of what we should be eating, we are still left with the question as to which meal should provide us with the most energy. Although the evidence suggests that eating more calories later in the evening is associated with obesity, we are still far from understanding whether our energy intake should be distributed equally across the day or whether breakfast should contribute the greatest proportion of energy, followed by lunch and dinner.”
What this tells us is that the regularity of our meals is the most important factor, regardless of whether you consume most of your calories in the morning or in the evening.
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