You know you need to watch what you eat, but you may not be aware that it's also important to pay attention to when and how often you eat. This is the message from a scientific statement issued recently by the American Heart Association. Based on a review of the best evidence available on meal timing and its impact on health, the statement gives you more ways to improve your eating habits and reduce the number of calories you take in.
In general, eating habits have changed. In our 24/7 world, people have gotten away from the pattern of eating “three squares” a day. Instead we are snacking more, grazing throughout the day, skipping breakfast and eating too much late at night, all of which contribute to gaining weight and metabolic problems.
Reviewing the literature on eating patterns and health profiles, the researchers found that many U.S. adults eat around the clock. The only hours during which little eating takes place are overnight — between 1 and 6 am.
Twenty to 30 percent of U.S. adults do not eat breakfast, a number that has been increasing for the past 40 years. The drop in breakfast consumption has coincided with an increase in obesity, and many studies have looked into the connection between the two.
As calories supplied by routine meals have gone down, the number of calories supplied by snacks has gone up.
Skipping breakfast is also related to an unhealthful metabolic profile, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. These risks persisted even when the nutritional content of the meals was taken into account.
As calories supplied by routine meals have gone down, the number of calories supplied by snacks has gone up. On average, snacking has risen from 18 percent of women's daily calories to 23 percent, according to the review. Since snacks usually contain more fat and sugar, as well as fewer nutrients, than meals, this is not good news.
People who routinely ate breakfast were found to have healthier blood pressure and cholesterol measurements, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type-two diabetes. Eating breakfast may promote better health and nutritional behaviors all day, the authors suggest, and point to studies that show that people who eat healthy foods in reasonable amounts more frequently throughout the day have improved lipid profiles and a lower risk of obesity.
The authors offer some ways to improve your eating habits based on their review:
As grazing has become more common, people are eating fewer regular meals, particularly breakfast.
The AHA's statement pulls together a wide body of research and offers research-based information that can be applied to anyone's daily eating patterns. You may want to consult your health care provider or a registered dietician for guidance on the best way to put effective and healthful nutrition practices to work in your daily life.
“Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention” is published in Circulation.