You’ve probably skipped dinner to hang out with friends, or didn’t bother with breakfast because you overslept. You figure you’ll make up for it with a meal later in the day – no big deal, right?
Two new studies published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society suggests our health isn’t only affected by what we eat, but when we eat as well. Obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes are all consequences of irregular meals, regardless of the calories being consumed.
One of the research papers found people who had six consistent meals a day had better cholesterol and insulin levels than people who ate arbitrarily.
“We found that adults consuming calories during regular meals—at similar times from one day to [the] next—were less obese than people who have irregular meals, despite consuming more calories overall,” says Gerda Pot, PhD, who worked on both papers.
Logically, it’s difficult to comprehend how meal timing could be that influential to a person’s health. To get a better understanding, an emerging field of study, chrononutrition, is examining the link between metabolism and circadian rhythms.
Metabolic processes in the body follow patterns that cycle on a 24-hour clock. These processes include appetite, digestion, and the metabolism of fat, cholesterol, and glucose.
“Eating inconsistently may affect our internal body clock,” says Pot.
Shaking that internal clock may be the cause of the extreme indifferences in health. Still, the area of chrononutrition must further be explored to fully understand the relationship between health and meal timing.
“This is a really important and valid question which we unfortunately cannot answer yet,” says Pot. “It would be of great interest to fully understand how much impact disruptions in our circadian rhythms could have on [our] obesity risk.”
At this point, it’s probably best to be safe and eat on the most consistent schedule you can.