Do you have a modest breakfast and lunch, saving your appetite (and calories) for a nice, hearty meal in the evening? This standard American eating pattern could be harming your heart—even if you eat a healthy diet and consume the right amount of total daily calories. Here’s what you need to know…and do.
In a study supported by the American Heart Association, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center reviewed data on 12,708 people (ages 18 to 76) from the Hispanic Community Health Study. The study surveyed the participants about their eating habits, including not just what they ate but how much they ate and at what time of day…and also collected data on their blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
The researchers observed that…
- Every 1% increase in calories eaten after 6 pm (for a 2,000-calorie diet, about 20 calories) was associated with higher blood sugar, insulin and insulin resistance—which are markers for increased risk for diabetes.
- Compared with lighter diners, those who ate 30% or more of their daily calories after 6 pm were 23% more likely to have high blood pressure…and 19% more likely to have prediabetes, which is often a precursor to diabetes.
Surprisingly, consuming the largest meal late in the day was not associated with obesity, being overweight or having excess belly fat. And while the participants in this study were from the Hispanic community, the results support similar findings from other research on the general US population.
Since diabetes and high blood pressure are risk factors for stroke and heart disease, the researchers warn that eating a large meal late in the evening may increase a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association would like to see more research into the relationship between meal timing and cardiovascular risk.
Meanwhile, maybe our grandparents and great-grandparents were onto something when they ate their main meal in the middle of the day and a light snack for supper.