In healthy eating, timing could be just as important as diet

1. Best Mealtimes
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One of the most important parts of any fitness or health plan is diet. Particularly when it comes to weight loss, there are plenty of meal plans out there to help. It can be difficult navigating which foods are good and which ones are bad, but countless books, blogs, and social media pages are there to guide you in your quest for a balanced and healthy culinary regime. However, there is another aspect of diet that is often overlooked: timing. Research suggests that when you eat could be just as important as what you consume.اضافة اعلان

We all know it to be “the most important meal of the day” — or at least that is what everyone says. So when should we consume our first chow after long hours of sleep? Generally speaking, breakfast should be eaten within the first hour or two after waking.

Breakfast is supposed to give you the energy to start out — and get through — your day. As it relates to weight loss and fitness, however, the research is extremely divided. If you search for studies relating to breakfast and weight loss, you will certainly find positive benefits on both sides of the coin: having and skipping breakfast.

Some studies have shown that when people skip breakfast, they are more likely to consume poorer-quality food later in the day. Additionally, it has been found that those who skip breakfast are more likely to snack before lunch. Other studies have found that those who skip breakfast are more likely to consume more calories during lunch. And, unfortunately for those who are trying to live a healthy life, readily available snack foods are typically high in fats and sugar, which can counteract weight loss.

On the other hand, there is also research showing that skipping that first meal could be a weight loss option. Forgoing breakfast could ultimately reduce total calories consumed, contributing to restrictive diets. Additionally, limiting the total hours of the day spent eating to 12 or less hours — commonly known as intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating — can help with weight loss and improve metabolic health. Other studies have found that those who eat a large breakfast are more likely to eat more throughout the day.

Ultimately, the choice to skip or eat breakfast is up to you — it depends on personal preference and your overall goals. But if you do choose to eat, it should be within the first couple hours of waking. What is more, your breakfast foods should include a mix of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and fiber. And be sure to avoid filling your body with foods high in sugar and fat (i.e., sugary breakfast cereals) first thing in the morning.

The mid-day meal is a little less controversial than breakfast. Lunch is when the majority of calories should be consumed via a healthy balance of foods. However, a series of studies conducted in Spain found that the timing of lunch may have the greatest impact on weight loss compared to other meals. It was found that those who ate lunch earlier lost significantly more weight than those who ate lunch later. In that one particular study, researchers defined early lunch as before 3pm and late lunch as after 3pm. However, a follow-up study later defined early lunch as around 1pm and a late lunch as around 4:30pm. The results showed that those who ate late lunches had poorer metabolic outcomes compared to those who ate lunch early.

It is important to note that genetic factors and environmental factors can play a role in metabolism. Generally speaking, though, the consensus seems to be that when the majority of total daily calories are consumed earlier in the day, there may be greater dividends in terms of weight loss and metabolic health.

The timing of dinner can also have an impact on health outcomes. Many studies suggest that those who eat dinner late are at a higher risk for obesity, dyslipidemia (poorly regulated fat in the blood), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and metabolic syndrome. Ultimately, these factors contribute to chronic conditions such as type two diabetes.

There is no universal, “perfect” timing for dinner, since health outcomes are related to a specific hormone known as melatonin. Melatonin is one of the key hormones responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle. As the concentration of melatonin increases, the release of an important hormone known as insulin decreases. Insulin is important in regulating the amount of sugar in the blood. After we eat, the sugar in our blood increases and insulin helps to lower the concentration. Thus, we should not eat when our melatonin levels are rising.

Melatonin levels combined with the circadian rhythm can create varying biological nights. Your biological night is the time when your body is ready for sleep, which does not necessarily line up with actual nighttime. For some people, biological night can begin as early as 7pm, while for others, it can start as late as 1am.

Generally speaking, studies have found that when 50 percent of total calories are consumed eight hours before your biological night, you are less likely to struggle with weight problems or obesity. Furthermore, research suggests that it is best not to eat two to three hours before bed. The greater the time gap between dinner and bedtime, the better the health outcomes.

Late-night snacking
You have probably heard it before: late-night snacking should be avoided, especially for those looking to lose weight. As with dinnertime, the later you eat, the greater the risk of poor health outcomes. What is more, late-night snacking can also cause poorer sleep quality. And it is a vicious cycle — many studies have shown that poor sleep increases the risk of obesity, and can make it more difficult to lose weight.

Similarly, sleep deprivation can increase the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Cravings for late-night snacks may even be indicative of an eating disorder known as night eating syndrome, which is associated with an increased risk of chronic conditions as well as obesity. Yes, that craving for a late-night snack can be hard to beat. But it is best to avoid eating after your last main meal of the day.

Consistency is key
Your eating habits and diet should always be individualized, catered to your specific needs. Regardless of what times you decide are best for you, the most important aspect of timing is consistency. Although weight loss is dependent on your biological clock, it can be difficult to determine your body’s natural timing without testing. However, it has been repeatedly shown that your diet also helps regulate your biological clock.

In sum, it is generally recommended that your eating window — the amount of time between your first meal and your last — be 12 hours or shorter, that the majority of calories be consumed in the earlier part of the day, and that eating should be avoided when melatonin levels are high, close to bedtime. Following these steps can help you not only lose weight, but also avoid gaining it in the first place, while also improving your overall health. 

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