It’s not just what you eat, but the time of day you eat it

Most people know that what and how much you eat plays a major role in your health. But scientists are finding that when you eat can make a difference as well.

Studies show that for optimal health, it’s best to consume most of your calories earlier in the day rather than later — for example by eating a large breakfast, a modest lunch, and a small dinner.

This pattern of eating aligns with our circadian rhythms, the innate 24-hour clock that governs many aspects of our health, from our daily hormonal fluctuations and body temperatures to our sleep-wake cycles.

Because of the way our internal clocks operate, our bodies are primed to digest and metabolize food early in the day. As the day progresses, our metabolisms become less efficient. Studies show that a meal consumed at 9 a.m. can have vastly different metabolic effects than the same meal consumed at 9 p.m.

This emerging field of research, known as chrono-nutrition, represents a paradigm shift in how nutrition researchers think about food and health. Instead of focusing solely on nutrients and calories, scientists are increasingly looking at meal timing and discovering that it can have striking effects on your weight, appetite, chronic disease risk and your body’s ability to burn and store fat.

In today’s busy world, it’s common for people to skip breakfast and binge at night after a long day at work. Researchers say that whenever possible it would be better to do the opposite — or at least to space your dinner a few hours from your bedtime.

Garaulet has found in her research that even in her native Spain, which is famous for its late-eating culture, people who typically eat a large midday lunch and a light dinner develop fewer metabolic problems than people who consume a lot of nighttime calories.

“In Spain our main meal is in the middle of the day, from 2 to 3 p.m.,” she said. “We eat 35 to 40 percent of our calories in the middle of the day. And even though we eat dinner late, we don’t eat very much.”

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