By Viktoriya Zabigaylo & Orest Szczurko
Timed eating patterns such as caloric restriction and intermittent fasting have shown promising benefits with respect to weight loss and other metabolic changes. Recent research has gone one step further to show that timing of daily meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – can also have important implications on metabolism, blood pressure and diabetic outcomes.
The average North American diet includes irregular eating habits such as lighter breakfasts and heavier dinners, skipping breakfast altogether, more snacking between meals, and late night eating. However, a 2018 study by Sutton et al suggests a healthier approach. The researchers looked at overweight, prediabetic men for 5 weeks, who were instructed to eat 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) within a 6 hour period each day, with breakfast starting at 6:30 am or 8:30 am, and dinner ending by 3:00 pm. Compared to the control group, who had no particular meal schedule and ate the same meals but over 12 hours per day, the men in the timed eating study group showed improved insulin sensitivity, pancreatic beta cell sensitivity, blood pressure, appetite, and oxidative stress reduction. Also, eating a full breakfast and prolonging overnight fasting was shown to improve prediabetic symptoms. This is consistent with the fact that people who eat breakfast find it easier to lose weight and keep their weight down compared to those who skip breakfast, independent of caloric intake and exercise. The main reason for this is that our circadian rhythms (or ‘body clocks’) control our metabolism and convert food into energy more efficiently in the morning compared to evening. As a result, it may be beneficial to focus more on eating fuller breakfasts and lighter dinners, especially when considering cardiovascular and diabetic risks.