New nutrition research on meal timing shows that it may not be just what you eat, but when you eat. A study by the American Heart Association looks at whether the timing and  frequency of when people eat has an impact on risk factors for heart attack, stroke and other cardiac diseases.

The study on Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention appeared in a recent edition of Circulation Magazine. It is just one study of this topic and the study authors calls for more research in this area, but it raises some interesting issues that are worth considering about diet.

The study notes that over the last 40 years, our eating patterns have become more erratic. Skipping meals and snacking have become more prevalent. The authors note that time constraints can limit meal planning and preparation, which in turn can lead to an reliance on convenience food items, such as fast food, and an over reliance on “energy dense but nutrient poor” food choices.

The study examines whether these types of irregular eating styles can have effects on cardiometabolic health markers, such as obesity, lipid profile, insulin resistance, and blood pressure. It examines specific eating patterns: skipping breakfast, intermittent fasting, meal frequency (number of daily eating occasions), and timing of eating occasions. The study also suggests definitions for meals, snacks, and eating occasions for use in research.

The data in this study “suggest that irregular eating patterns appear less favorable for achieving a healthy cardiometabolic profile. Intentional eating with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions could lead to healthier lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factor management.”

Some of the findings echo longstanding nutritional advice about starting the day with a heavier meal and ending the day with a lighter meal; avoiding heavy food consumption at night; and spreading calories over more evenly spaced intervals throughout the day. We agree about the idea of intentional, mindful eating – see our post Mindless eating: How we are tricked into eating too much.

No quick diet fixes, but a nutrition coach can help

When it comes to nutrition research, there is a lot of conflicting information and some research is sponsored by food lobbyists, so not always objective. While research is key to understanding the relationship of food to health, studies often translate to clickbait headlines that can be misleading. It’s important to remember that there are no quick fixes for weight loss or health. Developing ongoing healthy eating patterns and choices may be less satisfying than the “lose 10 pounds in 10 days” or “eat breakfast to ensure a healthy heart” headlines, but is the surer path to longterm health.

ESI’s TotalCare Wellness program Members can work with a certified nutrition coach.  Coaches help Members assess current health status, establish goals for each individual’s unique situation, and develop a workable plan to reach that goal. Nutrition coaches focus on incremental, achievable goals based on each individual’s health status, goals and lifestyle.

These prior posts might also be of interest:


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