Mealtimes aren’t as simple as breakfast, lunch, and dinner anymore. These days, our eating patterns are increasingly complex, as we’re prone to skip meals, fast, and snack. These changes in our eating behaviors could have significant impacts on our cardiovascular health, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA discussed the effects of these patterns in their recent scientific statement, “Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.” Here are some of the highlights:
- Skipping breakfast. Called the “most important meal of the day” for good reason: the AHA points to strong evidence showing that breakfast eaters have fewer problems with blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance, and have better overall eating habits. One study found people who reported eating breakfast cereal were 31% less likely to be obese compared with people who skipped breakfast, and other studies found that people who ate breakfast were less likely to develop diabetes. The AHA recommends eating breakfast as a way to possibly avoid health problems like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
- Fasting to lose weight. Fasting does seem to trigger weight loss, at least in the short-term. Research has found that fasting every other day and fasting one or two days a week resulted in an overall 3 to 8% weight loss over periods of 3 to 24 weeks. Studies that provided food, like a meal replacement shake, on fast days reported greater weight loss. Fasting every other day also resulted in greater weight loss than fasting a few days a week. The AHA notes that long-term studies are needed to understand whether fasting is an effective way to keep weight off in the long run.
- Eating frequent meals. Eating several small meals throughout the day is often touted as a good way to manage hunger and bolster weight loss. However, the AHA found little research to support this. Nine studies found that eating frequent meals without restricting caloric intake didn’t lead to weight loss. As an alternative, the AHA recommends planning healthy snacks and meals throughout the day to manage hunger and weight.
- Midnight snacking. It might be a good idea to skip that late-night fridge rummage, as some studies have associated late-night eating with obesity and metabolic syndrome. For example, one study found that people who ate more than 33% of their calories at night were twice as likely to be obese. Another study found that men who woke up at night for a snack had a 55% increased risk of heart disease. The AHA recommends fasting overnight as a way to possibly reduce these risks.