Research shows that when we eat is more important than what we eat
I’ve never been a huge fan of breakfast.
Truth is I’ve never been too enamoured with anything that happens before mid-morning and my second or third cup of coffee.
By lunchtime I’m hungry of course, but circumstances rarely allow for much ceremony so, like millions of us who have to earn our daily crust, I normally eat at my desk.
For over two thirds of us the midday meal is a perfunctory pit stop wedged into the gaps between emails and phone calls and whatever else passes for productive activity.
Business concedes no time to digestion.
So, almost by default, dinner has become the most important meal of the day – at least in my household – and I suspect we are far from rare in that respect.
Dinner has always been the time when the clan gathers to break bread and share the news of the day.
In order to accommodate everyone’s schedules the appointed hour of this gathering has gradually slipped further into the evening so that nowadays we rarely sit down much before 7.30pm and often later.
This can hardly be unusual in a country which boasts its official ‘rush hour’ as 4-8pm.
We also know that, at least in the UK, it is part of our culture and social practice to make dinner the largest meal of the day.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
Everything, according to the latest research from Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey where an intensive study of 721 patients with high blood pressure (hypertension) has revealed that the timing of our meals can have deeper consequences to our health than even the choice of diet.
All of the patients, who had an average age of 53, were monitored in their eating habits with particular regard as to whether breakfast was eaten, what foods were consumed, whether salt was added and what time of say the meals were taken.
The patients’ blood pressures were monitored even during sleep and a comparison made to determine which behaviours gave the healthier outcome.
The best combination was a hearty breakfast followed by a satisfying lunch with a light meal in the evenings.
Perhaps the most startling discovery was that eating dinner after 7pm (regardless of menu or salt content) was twice as likely to result in overnight elevated blood pressure (24.2% of patients) than eating before 7pm (14.2%).
Skipping breakfast was the second most harmful habit.
There have already been many studies which have indicated that eating late into the night, especially within two hours of sleeping, can lead to high blood pressure and even diabetes.
This is, however, the first major study to suggest that the timing of a meal can have a greater impact on our cardiac health than the nutritional content or even the levels of salt consumed.
Experts theorise that humans are, biologically, programmed to eat during the hours of daylight but that modern culture, enhanced by almost universal application of electric lighting, has corrupted that instinct.
The problem remains that it would take a major cultural and economic shift in our lifestyles to adopt this healthier regime.
If this research is consolidated and confirmed in the future perhaps we may find that our great grandchildren enjoy a shorter working day or, at the very least, take two breaks during their day to eat lunch and dinner.
Either way the impact of such a lifestyle change could be very significant indeed.
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