February is Heart Month, and your physicians at The Medical Group of South Florida would like to focus on one simple thing you can do to improve the health of your heart: watch when you eat.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), growing evidence suggests that meal timing counts more than anyone suspected when it comes to reducing heart disease risk. In a statement issued last month, the AHA said, “Planning when to eat meals and snacks and not skipping breakfast are patterns associated with healthier diets, which could reduce cardiovascular disease risk.”
The statement went further in explaining the connection between timing of meals and the possible link to heart disease. Various body organs possess their own “clocks,” according to Marie-Pierre St-Onge, the lead author of the statement, which may affect how food is handled by the body at different times of the day.
“For example, later in the evening, it’s harder for the body to process glucose (sugar), compared with earlier in the day,” she said. Inability of the body to efficiently process glucose is a key marker for insulin-resistance, which can lead to pre-diabetes or even Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes, a significant risk factor for heart disease.
The statement refrained from offering such specific rules as “Never eat after 8 p.m.” or “Always eat breakfast,” because St-Onge acknowledged that every body is different, and the guidelines should be seen as just that: guidelines.
In general, St-Onge said, people should spread out their calorie intake over a “defined” period of the day instead of eating a lot over a short period or grazing all day, which never allows your insulin levels a chance to drop.
The AHA statement also raises the contentious issue of breakfast. Up to 30% of the population say they skip breakfast routinely, defying the conventional wisdom that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
Studies have shown that eating breakfast correlates with lower obesity rates, but correlation doesn’t prove causation. There may be other reasons for this finding, because other studies haven’t shown that adding breakfast aids in weight loss.
From a calorie standpoint, if those who don’t currently eat breakfast begin to do so without cutting back at other meals, they can’t help but gain weight, and obesity is a known factor in higher heart disease risk.
This is why the AHA declined to insist that everyone eat breakfast, simply sticking with the recommendation that it’s better to consume the lion’s share of your calories earlier in the day.
Please feel free to discuss this new research—or anything else you may have on your mind—with your doctors at The Medical Group of South Florida. We are here to help you maintain optimal health.