The idea that it's not just what you eat, but when you eat it that makes a difference in your diet is not new, but the idea that you can help manage your high cholesterol by rearranging your diet is. If you have a problem with high cholesterol levels, eating fewer calories at night and eating fat earlier in the day may lower your “bad” cholesterol level, according to a new study.

Prior research has found that how often we eat, when we eat and how regularly or irregularly we eat may be linked to obesity, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating patterns also appear to have an effect on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol. It’s the type that builds up in your arteries and can lead to atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

Try eating a little less at night and moving those calories and fat grams to earlier in the day.

Researchers from National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan used information gathered from the Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan. They studied the diets of nearly 1,300 adults who kept track of the times they ate, as well as what they ate for 24 hours. Researchers converted the total calories eaten to calories from carbohydrate, protein and fat. Meal times were divided into six periods during the day: 1) breakfast from 5 am to 9:29 am; 2) mid-morning from 9:30 am to 11:29 am; 3) noon from 11:30 am to 1:29 pm; 4) afternoon from 1:30 pm to 5:29 pm; 5) evening from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm; and 6) night from 8:30 pm to 4:59 am.

The participants returned for bloodwork a few weeks later. Their total cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol were measured, as well as their triglycerides, or level of circulating fats in the blood.

Researchers determined that the average calorie intake was 385 in the morning, 123 at mid-morning, 522 at noon, 171 in the afternoon, 557 in the evening and 169 at night. LDL levels increased about .94 mg/dL when people ate 100 calories more at night. When they ate an extra 100 calories of fat at night, LDL rose by 2.98 mg/dL.

When a person shifted 100 calories from nightly consumption to the morning, this shift lowered LDL by 1.46 mg/dL. Moving 100 calories from night to noon lowered LDL by 1.27 mg/dL. In addition, shifting 100 fat calories of fat from night to noon or evening lowered LDL by 5.21 mg/dL and 3.19 mg/dL respectively.

The various metabolic processes in the body that affect cholesterol differ throughout the day, according to the researchers. Cholesterol is produced at night in healthy individuals, and that tends to increase cholesterol levels. Eating more calories, especially fat calories, later in the day, when the body’s production of cholesterol from fat is most efficient, tends to increase a person’s total cholesterol level.

If you’ve been working hard to lower your cholesterol level, eating a little less at night and moving those calories and fat grams to earlier in the day (breakfast, morning snack, or lunch) is another weapon to try in the battle against high cholesterol, especially LDL levels.

The study is published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases.