By Dr. Ann Kulze, M.D.
Evidence is quickly mounting that when you eat and the timing of your meals may be as important as what and how much you eat. In a fascinating new laboratory study, scientists found that lab rats that consumed high fat food over a restricted period of 8 hours a day gained significantly less weight and showed far superior metabolic health relative to an identical group of rats that consumed the same amount of high fat food calories over a 24 hour period of time. According to the study’s lead author, it appears “every organ has a clock” and that there are times when they work at optimal capacity and other times when they operate more sluggishly. Like our hunter-gatherer ancestors likely ate, this study suggests that discrete meal times (not random munching) and protracted periods of no food intake over a 24 hour cycle (like from dusk to dawn) are best for metabolic health and weight control. I am currently working hard to eat my dinner before the sun goes down to optimize my metabolic machinery (5).
Even more, a large, first-of-its-kind study in human subjects was just published that supports the critical importance of regular meals, especially BREAKFAST! and refraining from grazing or snacking during the day. The objective of the study was to determine the associations between skipping breakfast, eating frequently, snacking, and the risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Over 51,000 adult males were followed over a 30 year period of time to gather the relevant information for this evaluation. The conclusions of this landmark study were as follows:
- Regular consumption of breakfast was associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes independent of body weight. (Somehow eating breakfast protects metabolic health.)
- Eating 2 or less meals a day was associated with a greater risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
- Eating > 4 times daily or snacking was associated with an increased risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. (6)
Bottom line: For optimal weight control and metabolic health – eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner and no more than 1 daily snack.