It’s not just what you eat that affects the health of your heart. It’s also when you eat it.
A new statement by the American Heart Association says there’s growing evidence that the timing of your meal matters when it comes to cardiovascular disease. The conclusion: Earlier is better.
The statement, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, suggests that planning when to consume meals and snacks as well as not skipping breakfast — all hallmarks of a healthy diet — might reduce cardiovascular disease.
The reason? Our organs have their own internal body clocks which may influence how we handle food.
“Meal timing may affect health due to its impact on the body’s internal clock,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University in New York City, in a statement. “In animal studies, it appears that when animals receive food while in an inactive phase, such as when they are sleeping, their internal clocks are reset in a way that can alter nutrient metabolism, resulting in greater weight gain, insulin resistance and inflammation. However, more research would need to be done in humans before that can be stated as a fact.”
That heart association statement doesn’t provide hard and fast rules about meal timing, but St-Onge, the lead author, did say eating later in the evening means “it's harder for the body to process glucose [sugar], compared with earlier in the day. “
Nor does the statement give specific guidance how often to eat. While some studies have shown that people who eat more often during the day have a lower risk of obesity and better cholesterol levels, the AHA says medical trials altering meal frequency haven’t been conclusive. St-Onge told HealthDay that there is no one-size-fits-all prescription.
“"If you're someone with good control over your diet, maybe grazing is a good idea,” St-Onge said. “But if it's difficult for you to stop eating once you start, it's probably not a good idea.”
Breakfast gets a nod, but it’s short of making it the most important meal of the day.
“There is a link between eating breakfast and having lower heart disease risk factors,” the statement continues. “Studies have found people who eat breakfast daily are less likely to have high cholesterol and blood pressure, and people who skip breakfast — about 20 percent to 30 percent of U.S. adults — are more likely to be obese, have inadequate nutrition, show evidence of impaired glucose metabolism or be diagnosed with diabetes.”