Heart health: will planning and timing meals work for you?

by TMP Editor on February 22, 2017

Lots of research suggests timing meals to more closely match circadian rhythms is better for your health. A recent summary of scientific research concludes regular meals, starting with breakfast are associated with lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Critics of the summary say it misleads the public by suggesting regular meals are an actual cause for lower cardiovascular risk. It’s true no causal relationship has been definitively established. However, it could be people who eat regular meals simply tend to eat healthier overall, which can definitely contribute to lowering cardiovascular risk.

Eating healthier can also help you lose weight, which has been definitely proven to protect your heart. Can you adjust your lifestyle to be more mindful of your meal timing?

Meal timing statement

The summary of evidence, known as a scientific statement, was published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association. Among the issues addressed, the popular notion of not skipping breakfast is supported by research finding people who eat breakfast are less likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Yet many of these studies are funded by the food industry. Other studies have found no difference between people who eat breakfast and those who don’t.

The AHA statement also cites animal studies finding that infusing lab rats with food while they are sleeping reset their body clocks, altering their metabolism in ways that made them gain weight, trigger inflammation increase insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. Extensive research of this type has yet to be performed on humans.

Devil’s Advocate

A flaw in this body of research is much of it is based primarily on epidemiological studies. For example, research that compares eating habits with frequency of disease. While a link between certain eating habits and disease risk may be suggested, there are many other factors not included in the analysis that could be more likely to result in heart disease or diabetes.

What’s more, evidence from actual human trials that put people on specific diets to measure the impact of those diets on risk factors (cholesterol, insulin resistance) don’t prove actual rates of heart disease and diabetes are affected by those diets.

In our busy culture, adding the pressure of meal timing to the extra effort required for healthy eating could be counterproductive. Until cause and effect can be established, behaviors such as eating breakfast are fine for people who like to eat breakfast. Healthy people who would rather not shouldn’t feel as if they must.

Eating healthier

Someone who wants to make changes in their life to lose weight could certainly give it a try. A 2013 University of Minnesota study found people who ate a regular breakfast, lunch and dinner were more likely to do their own cooking, eat more fruits and vegetables and pass on fast food.

Other studies have found eating regular meals makes eating on the go less likely. It probably doesn’t take a study to suggest eating on the go makes it more likely you will be eating fast food, or junk food. Chances are you’ll also be distracted, which can make you eat too fast, which leads to overeating. Research has been done that draws correlations with all the behaviors/results in the preceding sentence.

The bottom line: An effective weight loss strategy approaches the challenge from a variety of change angles. Meal timing could be one of them, depending on the individual.


American Heart Association

Health News Review

New York Times

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