The People's Perspective on Medicine

What Is the Best Time to Eat?

A very small study suggests that morning to midday is the best time to eat for better metabolism and lower blood pressure. Other studies support this approach.

A small study shows that the timing of meals can have a profound impact on blood sugar, insulin secretion and blood pressure. But what is the best time to eat?

Finding the Best Time to Eat:

Many Americans eat their biggest meal at dinner time. Based on the new research, that timing might be a mistake (Sutton et al, Cell Metabolism, online, May 8, 2018).

In this pilot study, eight men with prediabetes had five weeks of normal meal times as a control. That is, breakfast, lunch and dinner, at approximately the usual times for those meals. The same group was then tested under the early time-restricted feeding formula. In this phase of the trial, they ate breakfast between 6:30 and 8:30 every morning. They had to finish dinner no later than 3:00 pm. They then fasted for the rest of the day. There were no evening meals or late-night snacking.

A Long Fasting Period Improves Metabolism:

Although they ate the exact same foods during the time-restricted feeding phase, the men experienced better insulin sensitivity. Surprisingly, their blood pressure also came down significantly. Measurements of oxidative stress also showed improvement.

The researchers conclude that eating earlier in the day appears to have measurable health benefits, whereas eating late at night is bad for metabolism. They point out that intermittent fasting has benefits beyond simply eating less. People need to pay attention to their circadian rhythm when they plan their meals. The research may have particular relevance to people who are prone to type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

Previous Research on the Best Time to Eat:

This is not the first study to show that we may do well to avoid late-night meals. An Israeli study found that people lost more weight and controlled their blood sugar better if they ate a big breakfast, a moderate-sized lunch and a small supper. That pattern was compared to six small meals evenly spaced throughout the day.

In an earlier study, volunteers ate either a large lunch or a large supper, following random assignment. Those who ate more calories at midday lost more weight than those who consumed them in the evening.

Learn More:

We discussed meal timing and intermittent fasting with Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge in Show 1094: Does It Matter When You Eat? 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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And just how does this eating pattern coordinate with the work/life cycle of the average working American? The breakfast thing only perhaps if mornings start very early and calmly, but a large lunch (carried from home?) and nothing after 3 pm. What about feeding the children?

It is also fairly clear that someone (most likely Mom) is the elected cook of “fresh, locally sourced, mostly vegetable” (must be purchased frequently due to spoilage, also most often by Mom).

Of course, all of this after work since 2 workers are now usually necessary to meet living expenses. Sometimes “facts of life” just don’t work the way “good science” suggests. Good try!

What about women?? Our metabolism is different. For instance some women do poorly on long term low carb diet. It interferes with our fertility and menstrual cycle. So how does not eating after 3pm affect us ? I think I would be miserable.

The hardest part of not eating later in the day is that after our last meal we still have 5-7 hours of awake time. Not eating while we fill those hours with various activities is very difficult, especially when the earlier part of our life was filled with evening snacks like popcorn, chips, etc., while watching a movie or TV.

Why didn’t they also have the test subjects (in another phase) use a later 8-hour window for eating? All I can conclude from what they did is that intermittent fasting works. If they want to conclude that early eating is better than late eating, then the test subjects should have be tested in another phase, eating between noon and 8 PM, for example.

This small study suggests that finishing food intake by mid afternoon improves insulin sensitivity and drops blood pressure in American males. That is interesting.

But what about those folks who get such great results with the Mediterranian diet (I’m speaking of Italians and Spaniards whose eating habits are memorialized in the Meditarranian diet plan) who don’t really get started with dinner until 8 PM? How can Mediterranian diet be so healthy if eating after 3 PM is unhealthy? Clearly there is more to think about than time of the calories.

Too bad the study mentioned at the beginning didn’t also try having the men eat between the times of noon and 8pm to see whether the time of day is more important or the shorter time of eating is the big factor.

This how in Europe people eat: normal, (not huge),breakfast 7-8:30 am,dinner 1-3 pm, in the evening no later than 6-7 pm something very light. That can be a glass of kefir and a fruit,or small sandwich and a glass of tea.

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