Is when you eat as important as what you eat?
Everyone who cares about what our families eat has heard lots about what we should eat. But the American Heart Association (AHA) has highlighted a different perspective: when we should eat.
The AHA’s scientific statement published in the journal Circulation says that eating breakfast and avoiding late-night eating are associated with a lower risk of stroke and heart and vascular diseases.
Skip late-night eating?
Late-night eating includes having snacks or dinner late at night. In the study, either type of late eating had a detrimental effect on weight and heart health.
Researchers theorized this may be because late-night eating affects your body’s internal clock.
Your circadian rhythms influence your sleep and wake cycles. Your body responds to your circadian rhythms when metabolizing food and absorbing nutrients.
New evidence shows that your liver and other organs have their own clocks. These timekeepers also affect your metabolism.
Eating late at night may conflict with the rhythms these timekeepers want to maintain. Studies of animals found that eating during times of the day usually spent sleeping led to weight gain, insulin resistance and inflammation.
Similar studies in humans haven’t been done yet, but there is growing evidence that our bodies’ metabolism changes during the day. Metabolism is higher during the day when we’re active. Then, during the evening when our bodies are gearing down, our metabolism slows.
If you’re truly hungry at night, keep your snack small and healthy. Good snack choices at night include protein and a small amount of a healthy carbohydrate such as yogurt (contains both protein and carbohydrate), cottage cheese and fruit, a handful of nuts with dried fruit, string cheese and fruit or a small apple or slice of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter. This powerful combo of protein plus healthy carbs will digest more slowly and keep blood sugar levels more steady.
Several studies have found having a healthful breakfast may help reduce the amount you eat the rest of the day. This helps breakfast eaters maintain a healthy weight. Studies have found the opposite for breakfast skippers — they’re more likely to be overweight or obese. Skippers are also more likely to have type 2 diabetes. And they come up short on the intake of recommended nutrients.
Eating a good breakfast may help you reduce your risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. People who eat breakfast tend to have lower rates of heart disease.
People who eat breakfast were also more likely to have normal blood sugar levels and glucose metabolism. That means they may have a lower risk for diabetes.
What you eat is still important
Whenever you eat throughout the day, make your meals more nutritious by including lots of fruits and vegetables. For balanced meals, also include small amounts of whole grains, a few servings of dairy products each day, lean protein such as poultry and fish and small amounts of healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, nut butters and avocados.
Balance the calories you eat with regular exercise to help keep weight in check. Also limit your family’s intake of fatty red meats and especially processed meats, salt and foods and drinks high in added sugars.
Pay attention to your body
The researchers offer one more good tip for weight loss: Pay attention to your body’s hunger cues. Eating just because someone else is eating or when you’re not really hungry is a good way to add unnecessary pounds to your body. Eating out of a box or package of sweet or salty snacks is a great way to overdo it without even realizing it. Instead, portion out a serving in a small dish and put the rest away. Pre-portioning snacks into containers also helps control the munchies and keep calories in check.
Extra pounds and risks for your heart and vascular system and other organs can add up, even when you’re not paying attention.
Are you trying to watch your weight? Take a free, quick online assessment to learn more about your healthy weight range by clicking here.
Heather Klug is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women’s Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.
About the Author
Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.