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Wed July 24, 2013
How The Timing Of Meals Affects Our Waistlines
Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 2:04 pm
A growing body of evidence suggests that it’s not just what we eat that’s important. It’s also when we eat that influence our health and waistlines.
We take a look at the science, in a conversation with NPR’s food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. A study out this week got a lot of attention. It said eating breakfast may help cut the risk of heart disease. But what is the science there, and is breakfast really that important? Here to discuss is NPR's food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey. Allison, welcome.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi there, Jeremy.
HOBSON: So, you know, we've heard for years that breakfast is good for us. What is new about what we heard this week?
AUBREY: This new study is significant because researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at almost 27,000 men, and the study went on for 16 years. And it turned out that those who skipped breakfast had about a 27 percent higher risk of either dying from coronary disease or suffering a heart attack. So, you know, I should point out that this is an observational study. It's not designed to try to prove a cause and effect, but it's a really important association. And the breakfast eaters certainly have a leg up here.
HOBSON: And I know that some of the pushback on this has been that people that eat breakfast every day, they're probably very organized people. They do all their chores. They get everything done.
AUBREY: That's right. The chronic guideline followers...
HOBSON: Right. And maybe they also exercise and don't smoke as much.
AUBREY: But even when they accounted for differences in smoking, drinking, exercise patterns, they still saw an elevated risk of heart attack among those who skipped breakfast.
HOBSON: It's amazing that it can make that big of a difference.
AUBREY: Well, you know, it could be that when people don't eat in the morning that they make up the calories by eating more as the day goes on. But it's also possible that something much more nuanced is going on here. And this is the part that's really fascinating to me. It could be that the body is indeed very sensitive to the timing of meals. This is the case that is being made by a researcher I talked to who studies circadian rhythms. His name is Satchin Panda at the Salk Institute.
And he explained to me that, you know, we all have sort of a master clock in our brain, right? It's reset each morning by light. Well, it turns out we also have clocks in our livers, our guts, our hearts. And these clocks are reset by the first bite of food we take in the morning. So the timing of our first meal can really help keep the clocks in sync, if you will, and help our bodies operate optimally. Here's how Satchin Panda explained it to me.
SATCHIN PANDA: When the clocks in our body are out of in sync with each other, then our body stores that extra energy and nutrient as fat. And over a long period, that can lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity and increased risk for heart diseases.
AUBREY: So the bottom-line here is that, you know, eating breakfast may help keep the clocks in sync.
HOBSON: Do we know whether people who eat late at night or those who skip breakfast that they actually gain more weight over time?
AUBREY: Well, the best evidence we have to date comes from a study that was published earlier this year, and it included about 420 overweight people, all living in Spain, and what researchers found is that those who ate their main meal before 3 p.m. lost significantly more weight than those who ate later in the day. And the difference was, you know, the people who ate early in the day lost about 22 pounds over this five-month study compared to about 17 pounds for people who ate later in the day.
And the interesting thing here is that these people were eating the same number of calories and had similar levels of physical activity. So what the researchers concluded here is that, yes, it's not just what we put on our plate that matters. When we eat also seems to play a role in regulating our body weight.
HOBSON: So what you're saying is we can have eggs, bacon, pancakes, toast...
HOBSON: ...hash browns and all that at eight in the morning as long as we just have a small salad for dinner.
AUBREY: That I think, Jeremy, is going a little too far here. We will still have the calories-in-calories-out correlation. I think what researchers are saying here is that the timing of the meal also matters.
HOBSON: Allison Aubrey is NPR's food and health correspondent. Allison, thanks so much.
AUBREY: Thanks so much, Jeremy.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's funny. That's what I heard too. More hash browns for breakfast. But that's not it. Coming up, a form of crowdsourcing to come with diagnoses for difficult medical problems. That's next. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.