What or When We Eat

A research was done on the effect of meal patterns on heath. Some suggest that eating irregularly is linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity). Larger studies are needed to better understand the impact of chrono-nutrition on public health.

Current lifestyles have become more irregular and much more demanding. The consumption patterns of food have changed over the past decades where more meals are skipped, consumed outside the home and the on-the-go more irregular food is consumed. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society published the implications for health from different eating habits and reviewed the evidence from a number of dietary studies as well as global differences in eating habits.

Our internal body clock or “circadian rhythms” may be affected by eating inconsistencies. Many metabolic processes in the body follow a circadian pattern such as appetite, digestion and metabolism of fat, cholesterol and glucose. What we eat can influence our internal clocks, especially in organs as the liver and intestine.

Studies have shown that people working shifts have an increased risk of a number of diseases that include cancer, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Dietary patterns are an important aspect in shift work to consider when investigating its effects on health.

Jetlag affects more than 80% of the population in central Europe and is a discrepancy between our internal body clock and social clock that has a greater risk of diseases like obesity and metabolic syndrome. Shorter periods of sleep have been linked to weight gain.

Frequent and small meals to regulate appetite and weight have been adopted in many fad diets, but studies show that a greater number of daily meals have been linked to a greater risk of obesity. But, without a reduced calorie intake, fewer meals are unlikely to bring major health benefits.

Eating patterns vary. Lunch is the most important meal of the day in France and the Mediterranean region, showing importance of pleasurable and social eating. The French tend to eat together as a household more regularly and follow a regular meal pattern on 3 meals a day. In central England, drivers as individual preferences and convenience dictate food choice, which means greater consumption of ready-prepared and take-away meals, more skipping meals and calorie-dense snack foods. In the UK and US, energy intake increases across the day with breakfast providing the lowest proportion of energy and dinner the greatest.

A clinical trial showed that those overweight and obese women, who ate more calories in the morning than in the evening, showed a greater weight loss and improved blood sugar levels. Evening intake may affect BMI differently based on whether people are regular or irregular breakfast eaters.

Most dietary guidelines focus on “what” you should eat with recommendations on “when” you should eat over the course of a day. The saying “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” may hold some truth. Cut those carbs and stick to good healthy fruits and veggies for those needed snacks. Just don’t overload on those calories, no matter when you eat.

Dr Fredda Branyon

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