Health Re­port Is eat­ing late in the evening dam­ag­ing your health?

The Mediter­ranean diet has un­doubted health ben­e­fits but late-night din­ing may be harm­ing us

Woman (UK) - - This Issue -

We can’t be­lieve it ei­ther, but the re­cent un­prece­dented hot weather in the UK may have put our health in jeop­ardy – but not for the rea­sons we may think. never mind the de­hy­dra­tion or the risk of sun­burn, the long hu­mid days and light sum­mer evenings may have en­cour­aged many of us to eat later, which could be caus­ing prob­lems. The im­me­di­ate ef­fects might be in­di­ges­tion, but the long-term con­se­quences could be much worse…

Tim­ing is key

The con­cept of ‘we are what we eat’ has been drilled into us. But while tuck­ing into oily fish, fresh veg­eta­bles and com­plex carbs is im­por­tant for our body’s well­be­ing, re­searchers have now re­vealed it’s not just what we eat, but when we eat that can have health reper­cus­sions.

Re­searchers at the Barcelona In­sti­tute of Global Health have dis­cov­ered that go­ing to bed on a full stom­ach, or eat­ing af­ter 10pm in­creases the risk of the two most com­mon can­cers: breast and prostate. The study, which in­cluded prostate and breast can­cer pa­tients as well as ran­domly se­lected in­di­vid­u­als, looked at meal tim­ings, sleep habits and chrono­types (a fancy term for whether some­one is a ‘night owl’ or ‘morn­ing lark’).

Re­sults un­veiled that early din­ers – peo­ple who ate their evening meal be­fore 9pm or waited at least two hours be­fore go­ing to sleep – had a 20% lower risk of de­vel­op­ing can­cer, com­pared to latenight eaters, or those who hit the hay straight af­ter. ‘Our study con­cludes that ad­her­ence to di­ur­nal eat­ing pat­terns (eat­ing in the day) is as­so­ci­ated with a lower risk of can­cer,’ says lead au­thor Re­search Pro­fes­sor Mano­lis Ko­gev­inas.

What’s the link?

The re­search is still in its early stages – pre­vi­ously, links be­tween food and can­cer have only fo­cused on diet, such as the quan­tity of red meat eaten, the im­por­tance of fruit and veg­eta­bles and the dam­ag­ing ef­fects of obe­sity – but ini­tial thoughts are cir­cling around the im­pact that late night eat­ing has on our in­ter­nal body clocks. ‘[The find­ings] high­light the im­por­tance of as­sess­ing cir­ca­dian rhythms in stud­ies on diet and can­cer,’ ex­plains Pro­fes­sor Ko­gev­inas. It’s thought that long-term, late-night din­ing – and that in­cludes the mid­night munchies – could have sim­i­lar ef­fects to night shift work­ing by dis­rupt­ing our body clock, which is key for reg­u­lat­ing our in­ter­nal sys­tems. Eat­ing just be­fore bed could force our body’s me­tab­o­lism to speed up at a time when it should be wind­ing down. ‘Boost­ing me­tab­o­lism late at night could dis­rupt hor­monal bal­ance,’ ex­plains Health­ista’s nu­tri­tional di­rec­tor Rick Hay (health­ista.com).

Un­happy hor­mones

Hor­mones are chem­i­cal mes­sen­gers that make us sleepy, hun­gry and stressed and are there­fore closely linked to our body’s cir­ca­dian rhythms. And breast and prostate can­cers are closely linked to hor­monal cues, ex­plain­ing why late-night eat­ing habits could in­crease our risk of these con­di­tions.

‘When we eat, our body goes into di­ges­tion mode and when we sleep we want to be in sleep mode. If we com­bine the two we dis­rupt both pro­cesses, which can lead to di­ges­tive dif­fi­cul­ties, sleep dis­tur­bances and po­ten­tially hor­mone im­bal­ances,’ ex­plains Rick. ‘It’s like

‘Try not To go To bed on a full stom­ach’

eat­ing on the run – it’s best not done.’ Rick be­lieves eat­ing at least two to three hours be­fore we go to bed gives our di­ges­tive sys­tems time to set­tle down and our body time to get into sleep mode.

He also sug­gests avoid­ing heavy meals high in an­i­mal prod­ucts, par­tic­u­larly meat, which can take a while to di­gest. ‘Ve­gan or veg­e­tar­ian dishes, soups, stir-fries and fish with veg­eta­bles and salad are all great din­ner op­tions.’

Plan­ning your meals

How­ever, Rick be­lieves it’s not just our sup­per sched­ule we need to sort – get­ting our tim­ings cor­rect for our other meals is key too. ‘You should aim to bal­ance your blood su­gar dur­ing the day, so it’s im­por­tant to keep your meals at even points. That means break­fast at 7am or 8am, lunch at 1pm or 2pm and din­ner at around 7pm,’ he ad­vises. As well as re­duc­ing our risk of can­cer, eat­ing at reg­u­lar times can help us man­age our weight and pre­vent un­healthy snack­ing.

So while we can all stick with our healthy Mediter­ranean di­ets, it might be time to fol­low a more Nordic ap­proach to meal tim­ings – Scandi sup­per times range from 4pm for Nor­we­gians to 7pm for Swedes. And in­ter­est­ingly, they have one of the low­est cases of breast and prostate can­cer in Europe.

avoid those mid­night munchies

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