Is eating at the wrong time a handicap for our biological clock?

27 December 2018
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In developed societies, the incidence of overweight, obesity and metabolic diseases is continuously increasing. Highly sedentary lifestyles, together with easy availability to high-energy, processed foods, are the two main reasons that could explain this epidemic. Until now, research to address this problem has focused on analysing the impact of diet composition by asking: what are we eating? However, less attention has been paid to another aspect of nutrition: when are we eating? The chrono-biology of eating behaviour deals with this topic by studying the influence of our eating schedules on our metabolism, their regularity and which nutrients we’re eating at different times of the day.

We know that delaying meals, in particularly eating late, is associated with an increased risk of overweight, obesity, metabolic and sleep disorders. Some nutrients can make us feel worse or better depending on when they are ingested. This is the case of sugars, since when ingested at night, produce a higher increase in blood glucose due to insulin resistance that occurs naturally during the nocturnal fasting period.

Traditional meals at fixed hours in a familiar environment are progressively being shifted towards more irregular feeding patterns outside the home with pre-processed food. Could this habit change be affecting our health? The answer is totally affirmative. To understand why, it is important to understand two fundamental characteristics of the ‘circadian biological clock’. The first one is that the clock needs to be set, day-by-day, by periodic environmental signals (so-called synchronizers or zeitgebers) and this includes the ‘light-dark’ cycle and regular meal timing. In the absence of synchronizers, rhythms become out of sync with the 24-hour environmental cycle.

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