Having an earlier dinner is key to staying healthy — and how exactly you should be eating during the day
You are what you eat — and when you eat.
Having dinner before 9 p.m. could lower your risk of breast and prostate cancer, a new study published in the International Journal of Cancer suggests.
Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health examined when people eat dinner and when they go to sleep, and how that affects their risk of breast and prostate cancer. Doctors followed 621 people who had prostate cancer and 1,205 who had breast cancer, as well as a control group of 872 male and 1,321 female patients without cancer, chosen randomly from health care centers throughout Spain (where dinner is typically served later).
“We focused on breast and prostate cancer, because these are the two cancers that have been mostly been associated with night shift work,” Dr. Manolis Kogevinas, the lead author of the study, told Moneyish.
Participants were asked about their sleep patterns, physical activity levels, dietary habits, and when they ate meals during the year before their cancer diagnosis; those without cancer shared those details for the year before they were interviewed for the study. And the men who reported dining at least two hours before sleeping had a 26% decrease in prostate cancer, compared to those who ate immediately before bed. Women with the same dining habit had a 16% decrease in breast cancer.
The time of day people ate dinner also played a major role in the study. Those who had supper before 9 p.m. had a 25% decrease in prostate cancer and a 15% decrease in breast cancer, compared to people who had dinner after 10 p.m., which suggests that having a two-hour cushion before bed was more favorable for overall health. And being an early bird, or someone who wakes up between 5 and 6 a.m., proved to have health benefits too; the study also observed a lower cancer risk in morning people versus night owls.
This could be because people metabolize food differently based on what time they eat, Kogevinas explained. “Food is best metabolized during that day. If you eat late and go to sleep, this can have an effect on obesity and cancer,” he said.
These findings could also help explain why night shift workers are more prone to health problems. A University of Colorado found that eating at night and sleeping during the day — like night-shift workers must do — alters key proteins in the blood like insulin and immune function. So many employees who work late hours could be prone to obesity, diabetes and certain cancers. And people who consume 25% of their daily intake of calories right before they go to bed wake up in the middle of the night at least twice a week, disrupting the body’s natural restoration process, which can often lead to weight gain, according to a 2015 Harvard Medical School study.
Nutritionists and dietitians told Moneyish that people should leave enough time to digest their dinner before hitting the hay. They advised that your heaviest meals should be breakfast and lunch, with lighter fare in the evening.
“Your body functions vary differently depending on the time of day,” said Sharon Zarabi, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “When you are sleeping, your body is going through all of these mechanisms to repair and restore the physiological function of your body. And if you’re eating right before you’re going to sleep, or you’re not giving your body enough time to digest, you’re interrupting your metabolism.”
While Zarabi noted that it’s not realistic to dictate when exactly people should be eating, she recommends having a small meal every four hours, starting the day with protein and carbs, and ending with a lighter meal for dinner, like a lean meat or fish with veggies.
“Try to give yourself about two hours to stop eating before you go to bed. Always make dinner your lightest meal,” Zarabi said. “When you eat more of your calories earlier in the day, hopefully you won’t be so hungry right before you go to bed. Look forward to breakfast, and wake up wanting to eat.”
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