Taking control of our health by eating healthy food and at the right time doesn’t seem to be a big deal. However, there are consequences if we complicate our eating habits. There are benefits to eating healthy real foods. Knowing when to eat and what to eat are very important to our well-being. Dr.Mercola, Mercola.com, reflects on the subject:
“For years, a standard dietary recommendation said to stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels (thereby optimizing energy and maintaining a healthy weight) has been to eat three square meals a day with small snacks in between. On top of that, health experts (influenced by the food industry) maintained that processed foods fortified with RDA nutrients are just as good as, and maybe even better than, cooking from scratch.
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Vegetable oil in lieu of saturated animal fats, low-fat instead of full-fat, and products fortified with iron and other vitamins and minerals are but a few examples. Today, science is clearly pointing out the fallacies of these strategies. In fact, this all-day grazing — especially on processed foods — has been identified as a key driver of obesity and chronic ill health.
The most obvious risk with spreading out your meals to morning, noon and evening is overeating. Other less obvious risks are biological changes that result in metabolic dysfunction and the inability to burn fat.
Remember, our ancient ancestors did not have access to food around the clock, year-round, and from a historical perspective it is beyond obvious your body was designed for intermittent periods of fasting — either daily or seasonally, or both. In fact, modern research reveals a number of beneficial effects take place when you go for periods of time without eating, and the timing of these periods of fasting also appears to have a significant influence on your biology.
For a number of years now I have been strongly advising to avoid eating at least three hours before bed, and now two recent studies highlight the benefits of eating early dinner, or skipping the evening meal altogether. In one, this singular meal time change was found to combat weight gain. In another, it was found to have a significant influence on your cancer risk. There are logical reasons for these effects, which I’ll review here.
Skipping an Evening Meal Improves Metabolic Flexibility
The first study1 found that eating a very early dinner, or skipping it entirely, alters the way your body burns fat and carbohydrates, resulting in reduced hunger and improved fat burning. The key timing feature of this early time-restricted feeding (eTRF) regimen is to eat your last meal of the day by midafternoon, and then fast until the next morning.
I actually prefer the term time restricted eating (TRE) and will use it in this article. Lead author Courtney Peterson, Ph.D., from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center told Science Daily:2
“Eating only during a much smaller window of time than people are typically used to may help with weight loss. We found that eating between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. followed by an 18-hour daily fast kept appetite levels more even throughout the day, in comparison to eating between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., which is what the median American does.”
To investigate the effect of TRE, Peterson and her team followed 11 overweight volunteers for a total of eight days. During the first four days, they ate all of their meals between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. During the following four days, they ate between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
The only thing that changed was the timing of the meals; the total calories remained the same throughout. Data on calorie burning, fat burning and appetite revealed that even though the participants ate the same number of calories each day, and burned about the same number of calories, the TRE schedule:
- Lowered hunger
- Increased fat burning for several hours during the evening
- Improved metabolic flexibility, allowing their bodies to more efficiently switch between the burning of carbohydrates and fats
As you may also know, NAD biology is one of my recent passions as I firmly believe it holds the key to radically reducing chronic degenerative disease and optimizing longevity functions. It turns out that NAMPT is the rate limiting enzyme to make NAD in the salvage pathways that convert the approximate 9 grams you use every day and mostly recycle back to its active form.
It turns out this enzyme is under strong circadian control and when you disrupt your circadian cycle by ignoring the time restriction eating windows, you compromise your body’s ability to create NAD, thus radically limiting your body’s ability to repair DNA damage.
Late-Night Eating Boosts Free Radical Damage
The research points to the influence of your circadian rhythm, and how taking advantage of the peaks and lows of this rhythm can help you optimize your metabolism. Many metabolic functions operate at their peak in the morning and early in the day, becoming less efficient as the day draws to a close and your body prepares for rest and sleep.
But there’s actually more to it than that. Avoiding food before bed will also help you optimize your mitochondrial function, and that’s key for all sorts of disease prevention. In simple terms, when you’re sleeping, your body needs the least amount of energy, and if you feed it when energy is not needed, your mitochondria end up creating excessive amounts of damaging free radicals.
So, avoiding late-night eating is a really simple way to prevent cellular damage from occurring — damage that might otherwise impair your mitochondrial functioning, lower your energy level, and ultimately contribute to all sorts of degenerative disease, including cancer.
Eating You Main Meal Mid Afternoon Lowers Your Cancer Risk
This brings us to the second study,3,4 published in the International Journal of Cancer last month. Here, they investigated “whether timing of meals is associated with breast and prostate cancer risk taking into account lifestyle and chronotype, a characteristic correlating with preference for morning or evening activity.”
To analyze this potential link, they conducted a population‐based case‐control study including 1,800 people with prostate and breast cancer, who were then compared to 2,100 cancer-free controls who also had never worked a night shift. Subjects completed a food frequency questionnaire and answered questions about the timing of their meals, activity levels, sleep habits and chronotype. According to the authors:
“Compared with subjects sleeping immediately after supper, those sleeping two or more hours after supper had a 20 percent reduction in cancer risk for breast and prostate cancer combined … A similar protection was observed in subjects having supper before 9 p.m. compared with supper after 10 p.m. …
Adherence to diurnal eating patterns and specifically a long interval between last meal and sleep are associated with a lower cancer risk, stressing the importance of evaluating timing in studies on diet and cancer.”
Men who ate their evening meal at least two hours before bedtime had a 26 percent lower risk of prostate cancer compared to those who ate dinner closer to bedtime, and women who ate an earlier dinner had a 16 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women eating dinner within two hours of going to sleep.
Indeed, as noted by Dr. Ganesh Palapattu, chief of urologic oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School (who was not involved in this study), “Not only are you what you eat. You are how you eat, and it might very well be that you are when you eat.”5
What’s more, “morning larks,” people who have a natural affinity for getting up early in the morning, were at particularly high risk for cancer when eating dinner too close to bedtime, compared to “evening people” who naturally get more energetic later at night.
While study author Manolis Kogevinas, Ph.D., a research professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, told CNN6 that the mechanisms are unclear, this reduction in cancer risk makes sense when you consider the effect late-night eating has on your mitochondria.”
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