You’re all guilty of it—the nibble of the banana bread or a spoonful of your favourite PB after dinner time when that sweet craving just won’t seem to shift. But is it detrimental to your hard earned fitness goals?
WH spoke to nutritionist Laura Tilt to find out once and for all—is eating late at night unhealthy?
Find me anyone who claims there’s a greater perk to the late British summer than eating alfresco in the balmy evenings and I’ll show you a big fibber.
So don’t shoot the messenger when I say – if new research from the University of Pennsylvania is anything to go by – you might be better keeping late-night eating to a minimum if getting lean is your thing.
SO… IS EATING LATE AT NIGHT UNHEALTHY?
Perhaps. The study looked at how the timings of your meals can affect your metabolism over an extended period of time. For eight weeks, researchers instructed a group of adults to eat three meals and two snacks between 8am and 7pm (the daytime eating phase). Then the same volunteers ate identical meals and snacks for a further eight weeks, but slightly later in the day, between midday and 11pm (the delayed eating phase). Only the time at which the participants ate changed; calories, exercise and even the time they went to sleep each night were controlled.
So, what happened? Is eating late at night unhealthy? Well, the results showed that when volunteers followed the delayed eating routine, not only did their weight increase, but so did their levels of cholesterol, triglycerides (indicating increased risk of heart disease) and fasting glucose (a marker of diabetes risk). Less than ideal. The study also found that, during the daytime eating phase, ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the satiety hormone) peaked earlier and later respectively, which points to earlier mealtimes keeping you fuller for longer.
So the science is there – the earlier you eat, the better. No more midnight munchies.
What we don’t have is a clear idea of what causes these differences. The research team proposes a couple of theories. The delayed eating phase resulted in the way the volunteers burned energy changing – namely, fewer fats and more carbs – plus, given that it takes several hours for your stomach to empty after a meal, eating late could mean quality of sleep is reduced, which has been linked with weight gain.
But let’s be realistic – early mealtimes won’t work for all and, while 7pm seems a sensible option to me, you might do better by shifting your largest meal to lunchtime. One study* found that dieters who ate their main meal at lunch lost more weight than those who had theirs after 3pm.
And, hey, the odd late dinner reservation or cheeky burger on the way home isn’t going to sabotage your hard-won gains – just make sure you’re not making it a regular habit.
Looking for some cooking inspiration? Try these healthy lunch ideas or salad recipes.