Is It What You Eat or When You Eat That Matters Most?

Author: Jocie Antonelli

Blog-When or What

Like the chicken vs. egg debate, a new report out this week by the American Heart Association once again raises the question, “Is it more important to mind what you eat, or when you eat?”  While there is still truth that both are important, this report helps highlight that timing is clearly an important factor.

We are all familiar with the concept of circadian rhythms, i.e., our body’s own internal clock. We are supposed to eat at some times and not at others. If we don’t follow these internal clocks, we are working against our hormones and ultimately then, against our best health. And by best health we are talking weight, risk for diabetes and risk for developing heart disease.  

So here are some guidelines:

1.   Eat Breakfast  

You’ve heard your mom and teachers talk about how it’s the most important meal of the day. It’s important for your metabolism, energy levels, and concentration. The report found a link between eating breakfast and having lower heart disease risk factors. 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.

2.  Nighttime Eating

The thinking for many years has been that if you determine how many calories your body requires, then it doesn’t necessarily matter how or when you consume them. Turns out that might not be the case. It goes back to the circadian rhythm thing again. Our body is designed to be active during the day, and in a state of rest and rejuvenation at night. Our body wants to receive food/fuel/ nutrients during the day. That’s how our hormones were designed and set up to work. Because of our lifestyles, we have been pushing those boundaries for years. We stay up later and later at night, and predictably consume more and more calories at night. When we  eat calories later at night, we are much more likely to store those calories as fat. When we eat later at night, we are also much more likely to overeat. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least 12 hours of intake-free time between your last meal/snack and breakfast. Remember, if you aren’t working with your body/hormones, you are automatically working against it. Not a good recipe for health.  

3.  Intermittent Fasting

Fasting is all the rage. A popular technique these days is fasting 2 days a week, or every other day. And by fasting we are talking about dialing down your calorie intake to 25-30% of your needs on those fasting days. So if you normally take in 2000 calories a day, on your fasting days, you’d only consume 500 - 600 calories. Turns out on non-fasting days, you don’t make up for the calories you didn’t consume. Over time then this ultimately leads to weight loss, lower blood pressure, and lower risks for diabetes and heart disease.

So while the debate still continues, nutritional research will also continue. We’ll get better and better at further defining a best strategy for health. In the meantime, consider how you can apply the above guidelines to your lifestyle and health care needs.