Time to Eat? How Punctual Dining Affects Your Health

It’s a busy workday. In fact, every day is a busy workday. Sometimes you eat lunch on time. Sometimes you don’t. Occasionally you don’t eat at all. Same for breakfast. And dinner. Your meal schedule is a mess.

Is that a problem?

It seems that nearly every aspect of health — certainly nearly every aspect of nutrition — gets measured these days. This information is frequently helpful, guiding us towards and away from various health behaviors.

One of these measurements, according to MedPage is “‘chromo-nutrition,’ which examines how the regularity, frequency, and clock time of meals affects the body’s internal clock and cardiometabolic outcomes.”

However, until recently, it seems there were relatively few “cross-sectional studies and prospective trials that looked at the question.”

“Most of those studies determined that there was an association between meal irregularity and cardiometabolic risk factors like a higher body mass index and blood pressure. There were seven observational studies of meal irregularity and cardiometabolic consequences, but two of those studies asked about meal regularity in a single question as part of a larger questionnaire.”

Now two new studies provide useful insights into the question: “Is When We Eat Important to Health?

One study is titled “Meal irregularity and cardiometabolic consequences: results from observational and intervention studies.” It “aimed to narratively review research on irregular meal patterns and cardiometabolic consequences.”

After reviewing the studies, the authors conclude: “Only few cross-sectional studies and prospective cohort studies were identified, and most of these suggested that eating meals irregularly is associated with a higher risk of the metabolic syndrome and cardiometabolic risk factors, including BMI and blood pressure. This was supported by two randomised controlled intervention studies showing that consuming meals regularly for 2 weeks v. an irregular meal pattern, led to beneficial impact on cardiometabolic risk factors as lower peak insulin, lower fasting total and LDL-cholesterol, both in lean and obese women. In conclusion, the limited evidence on meal regularity and cardiometabolic consequences supports the hypothesis that consuming meals irregularly is adversely associated with cardiometabolic risk. However, it also highlights the need for more large-scale studies, including detailed dietary assessment to further advance the understanding of the impact of chrono-nutrition on public health.”

Another study in the same journal is titled “Chrono-nutrition: a review of current evidence from observational studies on global trends in time-of-day of energy intake and its association with obesity.”

It concludes: “Overall, there were a limited number of cross-sectional surveys and longitudinal cohorts that provided data on time-of-day of energy intake. In the identified studies, a wide variation in time-of-day of energy intake was observed, with patterns of energy distribution varying greatly by country and geographical area. In relation to obesity, eight cross-sectional surveys and two longitudinal cohorts were identified. The association between time-of-day of energy intake and obesity varied widely, with several studies reporting a positive link between evening energy intake and obesity. In conclusion, the current review summarises global trends in time-of-day of energy intake. The large variations across countries and global regions could have important implications to health, emphasising the need to understand the socio-environmental factors guiding such differences in eating patterns. Evidence of the association between time-of-day of energy intake and BMI also varied. Further larger scale collaborations between various countries and regions are needed to sum data from existing surveys and cohorts, and guide our understanding of the role of chrono-nutrition in health.”

Bottom line: When you eat may matter. However, in an age where everything is measured, more research is needed.