Is 6pm Good For Dinner – There is no doubt that the way you choose to lift your body is important. But new research suggests that when you eat matters, as author Anna Bartter found out.
They say you are what you eat, and for me lately, that means a quick bag of tortilla chips and a chocolate chip cookie to chase. A health freak by nature and a dedicated fitness fan, I know I should be feeding my body better – and more often.
Is 6pm Good For Dinner
And while eating more plants, for example, is an obvious way to improve health, when I learned that eating at regular times each day has a host of health benefits, I was immediately intrigued. So, I experimented for two weeks to see if changing the timing of my meals affected my gut health, energy and mood.
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According to a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, when you eat is as important as what you eat. Researchers in the US are looking at the effects of meal times on metabolic health – in other words, how your body responds to the food you eat.
They found that meal timing was an important factor in regulating metabolism, which is closely linked to the circadian clock. This is known in scientific circles as ‘chrononutrition’, and is gaining popularity as a way to manage obesity, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases that are influenced by our diet.
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Most of us eat breakfast between meetings but science suggests eating your first meal before 8.30am – away from work – may be best.
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Metabolic health is thought to be caused by a combination of factors. Yella Hewings-Martin, senior science editor at Zoe, explains: “A big part of your metabolic health is having a healthy metabolism. This means your body can digest and absorb nutrients from the food you eat without unhealthy spikes in blood sugar, blood fat, inflammation and insulin.
The theory is that timing your meals carefully can affect things like your sleep, hunger and fullness hormones, blood sugar control and inflammation levels, which Hewings-Martin explains can all contribute to “the long-term negative effects of eating on your health, such as high cholesterol, high levels of body fat , a large waistline and high blood pressure.
Therefore, I decided to follow the advice of the study for two weeks: to eat breakfast before 8.30am, lunch and dinner around 6pm, to give my digestive system a few hours of work before going to bed.
Scientists have found that people who eat breakfast early – before 8.30am – have lower blood sugar levels and less insulin resistance, which means that their risk of developing type 2 diabetes is lower than those who choose brunch.
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Importantly, research also shows that people who eat breakfast every day are less likely to develop heart disease, have lower blood pressure and dangerous cholesterol levels. I used to eat breakfast, but reading this made me more determined to make sure my body and mind are well nourished at the start of my day.
Having said that, I’m not used to eating more or less as soon as I wake up, so the first few days were tough. I’m used to grabbing breakfast on the go or waiting until after a workout before enjoying a hearty brunch, so I had to force myself to eat before 8.30am. I wasn’t hungry, but I persevered and by the third day, I was looking forward to my boiled egg and toast at 7.30am.
Eating breakfast also had an unexpected effect on my productivity; I basically ticked ‘eat’ off my to-do list early and didn’t start feeling hungry until 11am.
Thank goodness science also tells me to eat lunch early: after having an early breakfast, I was exhausted by 12pm. Normally, that would be too long for me to eat lunch, and if I feel hungry during the day, I usually satisfy myself with coffee or a snack until later.
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However, this time I ate when I was hungry, which felt natural. I also liked feeling in tune with my body and responding to what it was telling me, rather than ignoring my hunger if it didn’t match my schedule.
This resulted in more conscious eating; I planned out what I ate for lunch, and made sure I chose nutritious and varied foods rather than grabbing a quick store-bought sandwich on the run. Surprisingly, I was not tempted to eat snacks in the afternoon. It was like listening to my body and eating an early lunch kept me full for longer.
And the benefits don’t end there – research shows that people who eat lunch early (around noon) have lower blood sugar and cravings than those who eat later (at 2pm, for example).
Eating lunch earlier resulted in more rational eating; I planned out what I ate for lunch, and made sure I chose nutritious and varied foods rather than grabbing a quick store-bought sandwich on the run.
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It is well established that eating an early dinner is associated with lower blood pressure, better insulin levels and a lower risk of developing obesity and related issues. Nutritionist Emma Ellice-Flint says: “Meal timing is important for health, especially as we get older. Digestion slows down as we sleep, and our gut and its microbiome work hard to maintain and repair during this time. If we eat in the evening, this can disrupt that cycle.”
But the truth is that in the real world, very few of us eat at 6pm, and this was the mealtime I was most concerned about trying.
However, having three children who eat their dinner around 5.30pm most days was helpful, as I was preparing meals at that time. For those who work, eating dinner at 6 pm is not practical.
Sitting down to eat with the kids, while it wasn’t always the most relaxing way to eat, was actually really fun. We talked more than we usually do, and eating together meant paying more attention to how full I felt.
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Normally, I’d eat at 6pm and walk until I had a snack… and then I’d be very hungry when I sat down for dinner. This way, I didn’t need to eat a snack; I used to eat my best meals right when I was hungry – coincidence or nature?
From a practical point of view, I needed to be organized – I plan ahead to ensure that nutritious food is ready to serve the moment I go out. That meant making a vat of chili and eating a lot of it every evening the first week (not the most varied food, admittedly), but by the second week, I was getting into the swing of things.
A welcome result, as a person with IBS, less visible bloating in the evening – a big win.
The biggest surprise of this experiment was that I didn’t want to eat snacks in the evening. Normally, I’m partial to an after-dinner chocolate or three, and I was sure that by eating dinner early, I’d be hungry by 9pm.
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I was surprised, then, to find that apart from occasional meals, my hunger was kept at bay until morning.
As a rule, I sleep well, passing out more or less as soon as my head hits the pillow. In the middle of the trial I had dinner with my husband on the weekend as I usually do, and I noticed that I woke up in the middle of the night with heartburn.
It might just be a coincidence, or maybe I’ve become more aware of my hunger cycle, but either way, it made me sit up and take notice.
You might think that eating earlier in the day would give you more energy, but honestly, I didn’t notice any significant difference in my daily levels during the test. Being a high-octane person, I felt as full of beans as usual, except for my low-level fatigue (who else can relate?). But given the other benefits I’ve seen in bringing my food forward, it’s still a win.
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“The important thing is to stick to a regular diet; meal times can be individual,” confirms Ellice-Flint. “Eating healthy, nutritious food and leaving you satisfied after eating is the goal.”
Science agrees, as data shows that irregular eating patterns have a negative impact on cardiometabolic health. Research conducted by the American Heart Association suggests that “eating deliberately by considering the time and frequency of meals can lead to a healthy lifestyle and control of cardiometabolic risk”.
They say a tiger never changes its spots, but after going back to my normal eating patterns for a few days, I can safely say that I feel healthier and happier with my diet in general when I stick to these set meal times. It sounds easy to answer
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