Two new studies conducted in England are shedding light on the relationship between food consumption and our circadian rhythms. There is even a new term to describe that relationship: chrono-nutrition. The new research proves that eating at irregular times disrupts our body clocks, which leads to a variety of health problems.
King’s College London conducted the two meta-studies, which reviewed existing literature. One study examined the relationship of irregular eating to obesity. The other studied the effects of irregular mealtimes on metabolism. Both studies determined eating regularly supports improved health.
There are two ways in which nutrition and time are related. First, circadian rhythms control your appetite, digestion and the metabolism of fat, cholesterol and glucose. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s automatic clock, and it can be affected by what you eat. So eating meals on an irregular schedule can disrupt the very system that governs your nutritional processes.
One group of people whose schedules are necessarily irregular are shift workers. According to one of the studies, shift workers “have an increased risk of a number of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.” The researchers also defined another problem they call “social jet lag,” when your body clock does not match your social clock. This can cause obesity.
If irregular eating causes problems, the studies also show that skipping meals entirely is bad for you. Skipping meals plays havoc with your nutritional mechanisms. Also, when you skip a meal, you are more likely to snack on poor-quality food.
In their findings, the researchers emphasize the importance of taking time to prepare healthy meals, and eating with family or friends. This, say the researchers, “translates to greater consumption of ready-prepared and take-away meals, more meal skipping and calorie-dense snack foods such as crisps [potato chips].”
It turns out that the old saying that breakfast is the most important meal is probably true. In the U.K. and the U.S., people eat progressively more calories throughout the day, but large evening meals are dangerous to your health. One of the studies used by the researchers show that weight loss and blood glucose levels improved in women who ate most of their calories early in the day.
One question remains. Lead author Dr. Gerda Pot writes:
Although the evidence suggests that eating more calories later in the evening is associated with obesity, we are still far from understanding whether our energy intake should be distributed equally across the day or whether breakfast should contribute the greatest proportion of energy, followed by lunch and dinner.
The overall message of the research is to begin the day with a big breakfast. Eat your meals on a regular schedule. Prepare them with loving care, eat them at the table, and whenever possible, share them with congenial company.