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One more reason you shouldn’t eat late at night: it’s bad for your heart

9Coach logo 9Coach 12/11/2017 Sam Downing

Your body doesn’t like it when you eat at the wrong times in its 24-hour cycle, a new study reveals. © Shutterstock Your body doesn’t like it when you eat at the wrong times in its 24-hour cycle, a new study reveals. Late-night meals could do worse than make you put on weight. They might also cut years off your life.

An investigation out of the National Autonomous University of Mexico has found that eating out of sync with your body clock could raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The study, published in the journal Experimental Physiology, analysed how rats’ bodies reacted when they were fed fatty foods at the start of their active cycles (which, in humans, would correspond to the start of the day) and when they were fed the same food at the start of their rest cycles (for humans, during the night).

Researchers specifically looked at the effect of meal timing on triglycerides, a type of fat in blood. It turned out the rats’ triglycerides spiked “more drastically” when they ate at the start of their rest period than at the start of their active period.

More intriguingly, when the researchers removed parts of the rats’ brains that control their body clocks (the suprachiasmatic nucleus), the differences that meal timing made to triglyceride levels disappeared — suggesting when you eat is as important as what you eat.

Knowing what influences blood triglycerides is important because raised levels are a factor of metabolic syndrome, a collection of conditions that increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, among other maladies.

“The fact that we can ignore our biological clock is important for survival; we can decide to sleep during the day when we are extremely tired or we run away from danger at night,” said study co-author Ruud Buijs in a statement.

“However, doing this frequently — with shift work, jet lag, or staying up late at night — will harm our health in the long-term especially when we eat at times when we should sleep.”

The reason it’s a bad idea to eat out of sync with your internal clock is because your body is, to put it bluntly, a big dumb machine: it’s been programmed by evolution to carry out particular functions at particular times in the 24-hour cycle.

When you continually do things outside that careful schedule — like eat big meals late at night, for example — it tips the whole system out of balance, and bad things can result.

For example: A 2016 study found eating within two hours of bedtime keeps your blood pressure high, because digesting that food releases hormones that keep your body alert when it should be winding down.

2017 research came down even harder on late-night meals, declaring "prolonged delayed eating" packs on fat and disrupts metabolism, and increases insulin, cholesterol and other hormones implicated in heart disease and diabetes.

A later study indicated that you’ll put on more weight from meals eaten during your night-time “rest” period than those during your daytime “active” period — even if those meals are identical.

Big meals right before bedtime are thought to disrupt sleep, and eating out of sync with your body clock might even make you more prone to sunburn, because it disrupts an enzyme that protects against ultraviolet radiation.

The conclusion? Try to have a big breakfast, a solid lunch, then a modest dinner that you finish eating several hours before you turn in.

“Ideally we will eat most of the calories we need during the day, and then allow our bodies to have 10-12 hours without food overnight,” nutritionist Susie Burrell advised Coach. “When it comes to dinner, this means ideally we should try and consume our last meal of the day by 8pm at the latest.”

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