eAfter 8 p.m., weight gain – isn’t that a common tip you hear from just about everyone? And the list goes on – don’t eat fruit before going to bed, eat small but frequent meals to boost metabolism, and breakfast is the most important meal of the day. These are decades-old guidelines often suggested by health experts. Does science support these claims? barely. In my experience, most people miss eating important food groups just to stick to the timing they suggest.
Let’s get to know some of the myths about food timing that are most common in the diet industry today.
Eating late makes you gain weight
First on the list and most popular among others is the suggestion that you are asked not to eat late at night to avoid gaining weight. Proponents of this theory cite two reasons – late-night eaters may end up eating more calories than usual and include high-calorie junk foods compared to healthier alternatives. However, there is no connection between these two possible suggestions and nighttime weight gain. In simple words, eating at night won’t make you fat if your overall food intake aligns with your daily calorie and macronutrient needs.
According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the human body’s circadian rhythm, or circadian clock, directs it to fall asleep at night and to avoid getting up or eating late. However, most research concluding that eating late at night leads to weight gain is supported by animal studies. One example is a 2009 report that showed that mice who ate during the night gained more weight than those who ate during the day.
Human studies do not support this theory. A study of 1,620 children found no significant difference between the timing of the evening meal, energy intake, and weight gain. If you’re hungry after dinner, keep snacks on hand. Some great options could be carrot sticks with hummus, a handful of nuts, or apple slices with nut butter.
Read also: Stay away from “tricks” to detox. No food or drink can be a medical miracle
There are the best times to eat fruit
Fruits are usually recommended during the day and forbidden at night. There is no rationale behind this recommendation. In fact, experts suggest avoiding foods rich in fats, spices, and carbohydrates before bed, including fruits like bananas, kiwis, pineapples, and oranges, to increase production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes good sleep. An intervention study fed kiwi fruit one hour before bed to 24 participants for four weeks and found that total sleep time increased by 13.4 percent and sleep efficiency improved by 5.41 percent.
Fruit can be eaten at any time. However, the types and frequency of fruit intake are specific to each individual.
Breakfast is mandatory to lose weight
This is perhaps the most common myth about food timing. A breakfast kick starts your day but can be skipped if you’re following intermittent fasting or want to eat your first meal for lunch. A 2019 study by the British Medical Journal, reviewing the existing literature, concluded that a mandatory breakfast may not be a great strategy for ensuring healthy weight loss. Andrew Brown, an obesity researcher at the University of Alabama, concluded his study by noting that the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity is nothing but a theory with no sound scientific support.
Small and frequent meals increase your metabolic rate
This myth is based on the thermic effect of foods (TEF), which is defined as the energy needed to digest, absorb, and process nutrients. In general, TEF accounts for 10 percent of your total calories. Proponents of this theory believe that eating small, frequent meals leads to the expenditure of more calories by the TEF. However, TEF is not based on the number of meals you eat per day but on the number of calories you eat during the same period. For example, you can eat 2,000 calories in four meals by consuming 500 calories in each meal, or you can spread them over two meals by eating 1,000 calories per meal. Either way, TEF will be 200 calories.
However, eating small, frequent meals will definitely help you stay fuller for longer but with no evidence of an overall improvement in your metabolism.
Read also: Want to promote your child’s development? Replace rice with millet, according to a nutrition study conducted by India
Carbohydrates eaten at night are stored as fats
This common myth suggests that carbohydrates eaten at night turn into fat. It’s easy to believe and people have trusted him for a long time. However, the nutritional value does not “change” after sunset. The origin of this claim is unknown. One possible reason behind this myth may be that after 6 pm, your metabolism becomes slower and the carbohydrate-rich foods you eat are stored as fat. However, evidence suggests that while you sleep, your metabolism does not slow down, but speeds up, especially if you engage in regular physical activity.
The body repairs itself during sleep and needs fuel and macronutrients to support the process. The combination of protein and carbohydrates can be the best nutrition your muscles can get to repair themselves after rigorous physical activity. One study showed that people who ate 80 percent of their carbohydrates at night reported more weight loss, improved body fat percentage, and a reduced waist circumference. In addition, carbohydrates help you fall asleep faster.
Personalized nutrition. Scientific evidence does not support most notions of food timings. However, individual adjustments can be made to improve the daily diet. Don’t worry too much about when you eat, instead focus on eating varied foods regularly to get maximum benefits, prevent nutritional deficiencies, and keep diet-related diseases at bay.
Dr. Subhasree Ray is a PhD researcher (the ketogenic diet), certified diabetes educator, and clinical nutrition and public health expert. She tweets @DrSubhasree. Opinions are personal.
(Editing Hamra La’iq)