Does it matter what time you eat your meals?
I need to lose weight and lower my cholesterol. I work long hours and tend to eat my main meal late in the evening. Does it matter when I eat?
Victoria Taylor says:
We know that what we eat may affect our risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Now, researchers say how often and when we eat may also make a difference.
Recent research suggests eating most of our calories in the evening – the pattern most common in the UK – may be linked to obesity.
There’s some evidence that eating breakfast is linked to a lower risk of obesity, supporting the theory that it’s better to eat earlier than later. But this is not conclusive.
As our lifestyles have become more demanding and irregular, so have our meal patterns.
More research is needed about which meal should provide the most energy. We probably do need to tune back into our body clocks – eating when our body really needs food rather than when we have time. This doesn’t mean not eating after a certain time, but perhaps eating regular meals and more of our calories earlier in the day.
However, it is the type of foods you choose and portion sizes that have the biggest impact on your health.
You’re not alone in eating late. As our lifestyles have become more demanding and irregular, so have our meal patterns. Compared with 30 years ago, more meals are skipped, or eaten on the go, and later in the day. There is evidence that this is linked to heart and circulatory disease risk factors, such as increased weight and blood pressure.
The underlying mechanisms are not entirely clear, but it is suggested that inconsistent or unusual eating patterns, working night shifts, and jet lag can disrupt our internal clocks, which in turn messes with our appetites and digestion. When we eat irregularly or skip meals we also tend to make bad food choices, because we’re so hungry we choose less healthy foods or larger portions.
Food that we buy on the go is often less healthy, too – so check food labels and try to ensure your meal is balanced, whatever time you’re eating it.
Meet the expert
Victoria Taylor is a registered dietitian with more than ten years’ experience. Her work for the NHS focused on weight management and community programmes for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. At the BHF she advises on diet and nutrition.