Late night snacking is hurting your health

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Could those late night snacks be adding to your waistline and causing harm to your heart? A new study suggests that its better to eat during the daylight hours.

Nighttime snackers take note: eating late is harming your health, or so suggests a recent study out of San Diego State University.

While the study looked at fruit flies, and not humans, the findings do provide compelling reasons to investigate further whether there is a causal link between late night eating and heart health, amongst other health measures. I have been saying for some time, it is not just WHAT you eat, but WHEN you eat too.

Two-week-old fruit flies were divided into two groups: one group was allowed to eat a standard diet of cornmeal at anytime they wished and the second group was restricted to eating only within a twelve hour period. The amount of food each group ate was comparable. At the end of a three-week period, each fruit fly was measured on several health measures, including weight and heart health. Fruit flies on a restricted schedule were found to have stronger hearts, better sleep patterns, and to have gained less weight than their eat-anytime friends.

The results were the same when repeated at five weeks and when the study was completed with older fruit flies. What is it about late-night snacking that compromises our health, including our heart and waistline?

  • Your body's digestive system works hard each day to process the food you put into your mouth. Nighttime fasting—as I define it, no food after 7pm—allows your digestive system to take a much-deserved rest. Your stomach takes several hours to empty. A dinner or snack after 7pm likely doesn't have time to make it through the system before you fall asleep.
  • Intermittent fasting is actually good for your body, in particular for individuals who are obese or have high blood pressure. Our ancestors went through periods of famine; it is natural to assume our body functioning accommodates times of food scarcity by working more efficiently. Fasting is thought to regulate the body's hunger hormone (ghrelin), which can be out of whack for many people facing obesity. It also works as a reset button for your body: giving you a chance to clear out toxins and regulate insulin levels. It can be for those who require high-level intervention.
  • Allowing your digestive system to "take a breather" promotes better sleep.
  • Most of us are fairly sedentary after 7pm. Calories consumed past this time are more likely to be stored as fat, because our body does not have time to burn them off before we hit the hay.
  • And then there is heart health, something our fruit fly researchers suggest is important to continue examining (I agree). Another preliminary study, this time on humans, found that men who ate late at night were 55% more likely to develop coronary heart disease.
We can all benefit from restricting our food to the daylight hours. The best health advice I can give my patients who seek weight loss support is to consume their most caloric meals earlier in the day, then start to slow consumption towards the end of the day to give the body time to rest, and to ensure that calories consumed have a chance to fuel the body. We also make poor food choices at night; fatigue makes us prone to cravings. Ditch the late-night snacking habit and improve your heart health and waistline.