What time do you usually eat dinner? After 7pm? Unless you couldn't score a prime-time reservation at that hot new restaurant, or you're springing for the early-bird special—or you're a toddler?—chances are, you're dining post-7pm on a regular basis. What if we told you that your "late" dinner habits might be killing you?
According to a new study, the earlier you eat dinner, the better off you might be. Researchers recently studied the eating habits of adults with high blood pressure and found that those who ate a later dinner ended up at a higher risk of heart attacks—even compared to people eating a high-sodium diet.
Dr. Ebru Özpelit, associate professor of cardiology at Dokuz Eylül University in Izmir, Turkey, recently delivered these findings at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Rome, as the Telegraph reports. Özpelit said, “We must define the ideal frequency and timing of meals because how we eat may be as important as what we eat,“ adding that "eating breakfast is important— we should have a strong breakfast, we shouldn’t skip lunch. We must have a small dinner and it mustn’t be later than 7 o’clock in the evening."
Eating dinner too close to bedtime, the study suggested, hampers the normal decrease in blood pressure that occurs overnight while we sleep, creating a greater risk for heart attacks.
But wait a second: Why do cultures that adhere to the Mediterranean diet, and routinely eat late at night (looking at you, Spain), often end up living longer, healthier lives on average? “These studies make great press, but what they often neglect is the concept of biochemical individuality: Everyone is different,” Jason Boehm, LLC Board-certified nutrition specialist and nutrition coach, tells The Feast.
Some people will do well on a big breakfast and light dinner, he says, while others can thrive on eating a big meal in the evening. Another obvious factor? What people are actually dining on. “Especially with later-night eating, people tend to let their better judgment lapse and nose dive into a pizza or whatever. If you eat after 7 (and doing so is perfectly fine), make it lean protein, healthy fats, and lots of non-starchy veggies. That will provide the best fuel to sleep well and steady blood sugar levels. In short: Do what your body tells you and figure out what works best for YOU, not what the latest study says,” says Boehm.
It's important to note that the study participants already had high blood pressure. “Blood pressure failed to drop in a significant amount of people who ate within two hours of bedtime, so it may be less about having dinner before 7pm and more about making sure you aren’t retiring for bed shortly after eating," Samantha Cassetty, M.S., R.D., and VP of Nutrition for Luvo, tells The Feast. "It’s possible that eating so close to bed could raise the risk of heart disease, and we also know that late-night eating can cause reflux and interfere with sleep, which interferes with hormones that regulate hunger and satiety."
Your best bet? "If you can’t avoid a late night meal, go for smaller portion sizes and lighter fare—produce, small amounts of protein, and whole grain carbohydrates. Avoid fried or fatty foods —things like pizza, French fries, and burgers—and alcohol, which can contribute to reflux,” adds Cassetty.
So that pretty much rules out the things we normally like to consume at night. Guess that means we'll just have to move our bedtime later.
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