Diet

Eating Dinner Earlier in the Evening Can Help Fight Heart Disease

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Do you love an early dinner? It’s certainly easier to score a table at a popular restaurant, and helps to get to bed at a reasonable hour. And hello, happy hour! Well, it turns out you’re on the right track when it comes to your heart health, too. And for those who tend to dine late, you may want to reconsider the early bird special. 

Researchers have found the risk of heart disease increases when large amounts of calories are consumed after 6 p.m. Does this mean no more late-night snacking? Well, not necessarily, but women who are trying to keep their heart healthy should eat most of their daily calorie intake before the sun sets. 

According to new research by the American Heart Association, women who consumed a higher proportion of their daily calories later in the evening were more likely to be at a greater risk for higher blood pressure, higher body mass index, and poorer long-term control of blood sugar — and even more so if they ate after 8 p.m. 

The study looked at the cardiovascular health of 112 women and gave them a heart health score based on whether or not they smoked, their physically activity, eating habits, body weight, along with cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. The women then kept a food diary for a week, then again for a week 12 months later, to help determine the relationship between heart health and meal timing. 

Don’t worry, most of the participants consumed some food after 6 p.m. (Who doesn’t love a little popcorn or chocolate while curled up watching a movie on the couch?), but according to the study, “those who consumed a higher proportion of their daily calories after this time had poorer heart health.”

Most of us have busy schedules and eat later in the evening because of it, but our bodies don’t always get the memo. “We evolved to adopt a 24-hour light and dark cycle, meaning we eat and are active during the day and we sleep at night,” the study’s lead author, Nour Makarem, an associate research scientist at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told Today.com. “But our more demanding work schedules and commutes push everything later and now we are eating at unconventional times … When the clocks in the organs become misaligned with the master clock in the brain, it creates a state of metabolic dysfunction, which can increase the risk of heart disease.”

Makarem also explained that glucose tolerance is better during the day. “If we’re eating late at night, we’re not metabolizing the food as well as we would during the day,” she said. The researchers have not yet determined how many calories you should consume after 6 p.m., but they are recommending that it is less than 30 percent of your daily total. Based on our guidelines here in the U.S., the average woman needs 2,000 calories to maintain her weight, and 1,500 calories to lose one pound of weight per week, so you should be eating less than 600 calories at night. 

One way to curb your after hours eating habits is with a food diary. Keeping track of what you’ve eaten and at what time will help you hold yourself accountable and make you less likely to sneak in a late night snack. The more of a habit you make of this practice, the better off you you’ll be in the long run when it comes to your health. You can even still indulge in your favorite treats, just remember everything in moderation is the key to living your best healthy life — and maybe have that cookie after lunch instead of dinner.

“So far, lifestyle approaches to prevent heart disease have focused on what we eat and how much we eat,” said Makarem in a press release. “These preliminary results indicate that intentional eating that is mindful of the timing and proportion of calories in evening meals may represent a simple, modifiable behavior that can help lower heart disease risk.”

You can also try meal prepping early in the week, so you won’t spend as much time cooking and end up eating late. Not only are you saving money on food by dodging pricey restaurants, you’re eating healthy options made by you, and that just feels (and tastes!) good. 

Being heart-healthy takes a bit of dedication, but the way you will feel is what makes it all worth it. Eating earlier in the day is not the only way to improve your heart health, but it seems like a good place to start. But you don’t have to wait until 2020 to make the resolution to live a healthier lifestyle. Why not get ahead of the game and start now? 

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