There is increasing evidence that when we eat, what we eat and how much we eat are important. In this report by Sade Oguntola, experts urge individuals to consider adjusting their dinner time because eating too late may lead to high blood pressure and prediabetes.
People that skip meals, eat dinner later than 6pm, haphazardly, or one meal a day are less healthy than people who have regular sit-down meals with others.
Analysis into the nutritional effects of eating habits has established the effects of irregular meal times on the likelihood of poor health from some diseases.
In a new population-based study, researchers found that everyday eating habits like late night meals is associated with reduced blood sugar control and higher chances of developing prediabetes and hypertension.
People who consumed at least 30 per cent of their food after 6 pm had 23 per cent higher risk of hypertension and 19 per cent higher risk of prediabetes compared with those who ate less in the evening. These associations were especially common in women.
They also had a higher level of fasting blood glucose, insulin resistance as well as blood pressure. A high level of fasting blood glucose is indicative of diabetes. The study was presented during the 2018 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions.
Insulin allows body cells to store glucose as fuel. Obesity can build up resistance to insulin, which the body then tries to counter by producing more insulin, which leads to high levels of blood sugar and Type 2 diabetes.
A high fasting blood sugar level can be considered a sign of prediabetes. Prediabetes means that a person’s blood sugar levels are abnormally high, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Seventy per cent of people with prediabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
The researchers evaluated 12,708 participants Hispanics and Latinos with an age range of 18 to 76 years. None of the participants had cancer or diabetes. They recorded their blood glucose levels, blood pressure, meal timing and daily caloric intake, specifically observing the amount of calories they consumed after 6 p.m.
Of these participants, the average daily energy was 35.7 per cent after 6 pm, and more than half reported eating at least 30 per cent of energy after 6 pm.
Increasingly, people in Nigeria, like other parts of the world, now go to sleep later at night and get fewer hours of sleep. And with that delayed lifestyle, are higher rates of late-night eating.
Amazingly, such unhealthy eating pattern such as eating late meals is overlooked even though it can predispose to diabetes, heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases
Paradoxically, “every unhealthy lifestyle such as eating very late, eating one meal a day, eating haphazardly and skipping breakfast, can all increase chances of an individual developing diabetes” said Professor Olufemi Fasanmade, a consultant endocrinologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Lagos.
Basically, meal times are supposed to be regular. Breakfast, the first meal in the day, is supposed to be before 10am, second meal between 12noon and 2pm and the third meal between 5pm and 7pm.
“When you eat say breakfast at 11am, it means that you eat when you are extremely hungry, which is not healthy. If you are eating breakfast after 11am, when do you want to eat lunch?
“If lunch is taken by 2pm, or maybe 4pm, you now want to have dinner before you sleep, may be 8.30pm. That is eating three meals together within an eight-hour period. You are eating too close to each other. That is not healthy.
“That is why people that are too busy, who do not take time out to eat at the right time often have diabetes. They are busy pursuing so many things, and eating junks and late meals. Food eaten late does not digest, but only settles in the tummy. That is why we talk about stress as a risk for diabetes. So, we must learn to live a stress-free lifestyle.”
Dr Yemi Raji, a consultant Nephrologist, University College Hospital, Ibadan, corroborated that eating late eating increases the risk for hypertension, obesity and Type 2 diabetes because the possibility of burning it off before going to bed is reduced.
He added, “It is the storing of the calories and fat that contributes to increased cardio-metabolic rate, so night time eating is a major cardiovascular factor that people need to be aware of.”
Dr Raji, who said dinner, should always be light meals, stated that ideally, dinner should not be later than 7pm, so that there could be at least three hours between the meal and bed time.
He added, “it is better to go hungry to bed than feed your body with something that the body will not digest before bedtime, except if before going to bed you can embark on say about 30 minutes exercise to help lower the calories in your blood stream.”
Moreover, Dr Funmi Akinyele, Executive Director, Food Basket Foundation International, Ibadan, said there is some truth in the saying ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’ to avoid poor health.
Dr Akinyele, who remarked that bad eating practices are rife in Nigeria, stated “the challenge is that a lot of people tend to eat late and they tend to eat wrong meals.”
According to her, “Because probably they did not eat lunch, they may go for heavy meals like eba and iyan at dinner time. Timing is important because you need to give your food sometime to digest. But portion sizes and the type of food are equally important.”
For dinner, Dr Akinyele said starchy foods should be avoided and preference given to fruits, vegetables and nuts.
Medical experts have long known that “what you eat and how much you eat is critically important — not only in the treatment and management of diabetes but, quite frankly, in the treatment and management of other cardiovascular risk factors.
Previously, a study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating later in the evening was associated with a higher percentage of body fat.
Researchers collected data from 110 college students over 30 days to observe their sleep times and eating habits. They also looked at when subjects released melatonin — the sleep hormone — to determine where their circadian rhythm (body clocks) was at.
Results showed that those with a high body-fat percentage consumed most of their calories shortly before going to bed, when melatonin levels were high.
Eating late at night is also linked with the lethal form of high blood pressure which can trigger heart attacks. The study found that those who eat dinner late are much more likely to suffer from this “non-dipper hypertension”—the lethal form of high blood pressure where pressure fails to drop properly overnight.
In total, 24 per cent of those who ate dinner within two hours of going to bed suffered from blood pressure which did not drop sufficiently overnight, compared with 14 per cent of those who ate their evening meal earlier.
Experts say that eating late leaves the body on “high alert”, encouraging the production of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, while it might also disrupt the circadian rhythms and causing blood pressure not to decrease during sleep, which should normally happen.