We’ve known for a long time that diet is incredibly important. As the old adage goes: you are what you eat. Eating a healthy balanced diet is crucial and keeps both our physical and mental well-being in check.
However, the importance of when we eat has often been overlooked. Studies into eating habits have indicated that they are far more significant than we previously realised, which is why women opt for intermittent fasting and follow other eating habit guidelines. How much do meal times matter to our health? Find out below.
Traditional Meal Times
We have a long-standing notion of when meals should be eaten, particularly in the Western world. Typically, meals are divided into three distinct categories; breakfast, lunch, and dinner, eaten in the morning, around midday, and in the evening, respectively.
While for many of us, this seems perfectly normal, it is in fact a relatively new practice. In ancient times, the Romans would only eat one large meal per day. Breakfast came to prominence during the industrial revolution when workers would need a morning meal to energise them for a full day’s work, while late-night dinners were popularised after the invention of artificial light.
What this tells us is that our idea of three meals a day isn’t natural behaviour by any means but rather a result of circumstance and cultural traditions. That begs the question, is it the right way to eat? How much can mealtimes affect our health? Let’s find out more.
Our bodies contain an internal biological clock commonly referred to as a circadian rhythm. This clock is used for a number of different things, including telling us when we should go to sleep and when we should wake up. However, circadian rhythms can also influence our eating habits and can affect how our bodies digest food depending on what time it is.
Interestingly, when we eat can also affect how our circadian rhythms function as well. The two are closely linked and form something of a feedback loop, where one influences the other and vice versa.
Studies have suggested that meal times that are out of sync with the body’s circadian rhythms could have a negative impact on health and potentially lead to disease.
With our modern busy lives, many of us tend to eat later in the day. We might eat breakfast at our desks or skip it entirely, have a late lunch, and then eat dinner when we return home late that night.
There is mounting evidence that these later meal times could be detrimental to our health and could affect the body’s ability to regulate weight, hormones, blood glucose, and cholesterol.
On the other hand, people who eat their meals earlier have been found to be in better general health. Eating more in the morning appears to help our bodies function properly, and eating a large breakfast, in particular, has been linked to increased weight loss and healthier levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.
What’s more, people who ate a large breakfast and ate their meals earlier in the day were able to better regular insulin and demonstrated greater resistance to things like heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Additionally, people who ate earlier and ate large breakfasts reported healthier sleep, as well as mental health benefits, including increased calmness and feelings of happiness.
When Should You Eat?
If you’re looking to take control of your health, changing your eating habits can be a simple change that can have a big impact. Breakfast is important. Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast every day that is rich in protein and carbohydrates.
This will give you the energy you need for the day ahead. Often viewed as the day’s most important meal, eating breakfast has been found to promote better weight regulation, improved mental functioning, and greater resistance to diseases such as diabetes.
Lunch should be equally balanced and should be used as a chance to re-energise as you enter the second half of the working day.
Don’t eat dinner too late. Eating earlier will give you a chance to digest properly and will promote healthier sleep. Studies have found that eating late can negatively impact our health. It can cause us to gain weight and increase the levels of sugar in the blood. This is why some people who eat late dinners, such as shift workers, can be more at risk of being overweight or developing diabetes.
Eat your dinner early whenever possible, and keeping things light is the key. This is a time to wind down, so you don’t need to eat an enormous meal. Lean meats like fish or chicken are ideal, and eat plenty of vegetables.
Intermittent fasting is a more intensive form of mealtime regulation that has been linked to numerous health benefits. There are various different ways to approach intermittent fasting, but they all follow the same basic principles.
Essentially, intermittent fasting is all about eating at certain times and fasting at others. One common approach is to only eat within one specific eight-hour window each day and fast for the rest of the time. Another method would be to only eat one meal a day for a set number of days per week.
Fasting causes a number of physiological changes to happen to the body, including increased production of human growth hormone, fast cell repair, and changes in the genes that can lead to improved disease resistance.
Intermittent fasting has been studied in depth and linked to a range of potential health benefits. People who follow an intermittent fasting regime could see improved weight loss, inflammation reduction, a healthier heart, and increased insulin resistance.
We often focus so much on what we eat that we forget about the importance of when we eat. Meal times might not seem particularly important, but there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests when we eat can have a significant impact on our health. People who eat earlier in the day are often healthier and happier, while we’re seeing more and more people follow intermittent fasting regimes to take advantage of the benefits meal time regulation can offer.