Eating later compromises heart health

Eating pizza and social networking with a laptop.

New research finds that eating more calories in the evening is associated with poorer cardiovascular health.

An earlier study has shown that eating meals earlier in the day can help people lose weight, while eating later in the day may promote weight gain and slow down metabolism. Later mealtimes were also found to raise inflammatory markers that are usually associated with diabetes and heart disease. In addition, other studies, in mice and human participants, have shown that setting strict meal-times can help control blood sugar levels.

Now, new research adds to this mounting evidence and suggests that eating more calories in the evening may negatively affect cardiovascular health. Previous lifestyle approaches to prevent heart disease have focused on what we eat and how much we eat. The new study now focuses on when we eat.

Researchers at the Columbia University in the US recruited 112 healthy participants with an average age of 33. The researchers examined the participants’ cardiovascular health at baseline and 1 year later using Life’s Simple 7 — a measure of cardiovascular health that comprises seven modifiable risk factors.

Life’s Simple 7 account for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, physical activity, diet, weight, and smoking status. Based on these factors, the researchers calculated a cardiovascular health score for each participant.

The participants also used food diaries on their cell phones to track and report how much, what, and when they ate for 1 week at baseline and another week 12 months later. The researchers used the data from the electronic diaries to calculate the relationship between cardiovascular health and the timing of the meals.

The research revealed that participants who consumed more calories after 6pm tended to have poorer cardiovascular health. In fact, for each 1 percent increase in caloric intake after 6pm, the cardiovascular health score declined. Blood pressure and body mass index tended to rise, and blood sugar control tended to be poorer. The analysis yielded similar results for every 1 percent increase in calories after 8pm.