Chrononutrition is the science of how food, metabolism, meal timing, and your body clock interact. There is a growing body of research supporting the health benefits of eating at certain times during the day.
This emerging field of research represents a paradigm shift in how nutrition researchers think about food and health. Instead of focusing only on nutrients and calories, scientists are also starting to look at meal timing. Meal timing can have striking effects on weight, appetite, chronic disease risk, and your body’s ability to burn and store fat.
What has research shown?
- Eating meals around the same time each day is better for health
- Eating more of your food earlier in the day is better for health
Benefits of Regular Meal Timing
People who eat at random times throughout the day have higher blood pressure and BMI than people who eat their meals on a regular schedule. Late-night eating seems to make this situation even worse.
Eating at the same time every day resulted in lower blood pressure and BMI even when the participants ate up to 9 times throughout the day. So, even if you prefer to eat many small meals, there are health benefits to eating those meals on a set schedule each day.
There is also evidence to suggest that eating most of your calories earlier in the day may aid in weight loss. Eating earlier in the day has also shown to positively impact blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and insulin sensitivity.
One important note here is that the quality of your diet is still absolutely critical. Eating a well-balanced diet with lots of whole foods is still the key to maintaining a healthy body.
The Biology Behind Chrononutrition
Eating at the Same Time Each Day
Appetite, digestion, and the metabolism of fat, cholesterol, and glucose follow patterns that repeat every 24 hours. Eating at random times may affect our internal body clock and that disruption can lead to weight gain and other health risks.
Eating More Calories Earlier in the Day (Upfronting Calories)
Our bodies are more insulin-sensitive early in the day. This means that our muscles are better able to absorb and use glucose from our bloodstreams. As the day progresses, we become less and less insulin-sensitive. By nighttime, the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin become less responsive to blood sugar elevations.
Another important factor to consider is hormone-sensitive lipase. This is an enzyme that releases fat from our fat cells for energy. This enzyme is typically most active at night so it can provide our bodies with energy to keep our organs functioning while we’re sleeping. Eating late at night suppresses this hormone and stops your body from burning fat.
Still a lot to Learn about Chrononutrition
We still don’t know how significant the effect of varying your meal times is when it comes to health benefits. It would be helpful to fully understand how much disruptions in our circadian rhythms impact obesity and other health risks.
Interested in working on optimizing your meal timing? One of our dietitians can help.