If you’re like many people, life may keep you so busy that you don’t have the time or energy to put much thought into your eating patterns. You might rush out the door in the morning without eating breakfast, grab something on the run for lunch and nosh on a few things here and there throughout the day. It’s not until the evening that you have a chance to sit down and eat a full — perhaps too full — meal.
But eating this way may not be good for your health, a new study1 shows. Researchers have found that consuming too many calories in the evening may increase your chances of developing prediabetes and high blood pressure, which together may increase your cardiovascular risks.2
Here’s what you need to know to keep your heart — and the rest of you — as healthy as possible.
What the research found
In preliminary research1 that looked at the timing of meals among more than 12,000 Hispanic/Latino adults, researchers found that eating 30% or more daily calories after 6 p.m. was associated with a 23% higher risk of developing high blood pressure and a 19% higher risk of developing prediabetes when compared with people who ate less than 30% of their calories after that time. In this study, which was funded by the American Heart Association (AHA) and presented at the AHA Scientific Sessions in November 2018, more than half of the study participants reported consuming more than 30% of their calories after 6 p.m.
The researchers also found that every 1% increase in the number of calories eaten after 6 p.m. (approximately 20 calories in a 2,000-calorie daily diet, for instance) was associated with higher levels of fasting glucose, insulin and insulin resistance, all of which are linked to an increased risk of diabetes.1 Compared with other study participants, people who ate later also had higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.3
Interestingly, the study did not find that eating later was associated with an increased risk of becoming overweight or developing central adiposity (belly fat),1 although other research has found such links. Experts at Harvard Health,4 for instance, say that while the results are “not unanimous,” the majority of studies show that eating late in the day contributes to weight gain and other potential health problems.
According to the AHA study, the increased risks by eating late has to do with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, an internal clock that helps regulate our waking, eating and sleeping patterns, among other functions.5 The researchers suggest that eating later in the day disrupts the internal clock, increasing the risk of different types of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.6
Jenny Craig's Rapid Results program is based on the Nobel Prize-winning science on circadian rhythms and leverages the body's natural clock to help optimize your weight loss efforts.
While the AHA study focused on a specific demographic, the authors state that the findings may apply to the U.S. population in general.1 In fact, an earlier Scientific Statement7 from the AHA says the planning and timing of meals and snacks, including not skipping breakfast and eating more calories earlier in the day as opposed to later, may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They call for more studies to investigate this connection.
More tips to keep your heart healthy
Besides limiting your calorie intake in the evening and eating more calories in the morning than later in the day, there are other steps you can take to help keep your heart healthy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’s) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends the following:8
1. Eat a healthy diet. The HHS’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) suggests that you:9
- Emphasize vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Include beans, eggs, fish, lean meats, nuts and poultry in your diet
- Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars
- Monitor your portion sizes
2. Stay active. To gain major health benefits, the NHLBI10 recommends that you do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. Check out this Beginner’s Guide to Exercise to get started.
3. Stay at a healthy weight. Click here to take a free BMI assessment and find out if you fall within a healthy range.
4. Don’t smoke or expose yourself to secondhand smoke.
5. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
6. Manage your stress.
7. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. (Find out how alcohol hinders weight loss.)
In addition, the Cleveland Clinic recommends these steps to help keep your heart healthy:11
- Get enough sleep. Research has shown that adults who sleep fewer than six hours per night are approximately twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as those who get 6-8 hours per night. In addition to making a commitment to getting an adequate amount of sleep, practice “sleep hygiene” to improve the quality of your Z’s.
- Get up and move around during the day. Studies have found a link between long periods of sitting and an increase in cardiovascular events. In addition, sitting for long periods of time — such as when traveling — increases your likelihood of developing blood clots. So if you work at a job that requires a lot of sitting, make it a priority to get up and walk around several times throughout the day; many experts suggest doing so at least once per hour.
Heart health and weight loss
Since maintaining a healthy weight is also important to keep your heart healthy, focusing on weight loss can help if you’re overweight. Here are a few tips to get started.
1. Focus on breakfast, not dinner. In addition to the findings from the AHA research, another study12 found that eating a substantial breakfast and a small dinner is better for weight loss than eating a small breakfast and a large dinner.
2. Eat with your circadian rhythm in mind. Eating in sync with your circadian rhythm — basically, during daylight hours — can help with weight loss,13 in addition to potentially improving many other aspects of your health, including hormone release, metabolism, digestion, depression and more.14
3. Weigh yourself daily. Another study presented at the Scientific Sessions15 analyzed the self-weighing patterns of more than 1,000 adults, and whether there were differences in weight according to these patterns. The researchers found that people who weighed themselves six or seven times per week lost 1.7% of their body weight over the course of a year. People who never weighed themselves, or who did so once per week, didn’t lose any weight during the same timeframe. Previous studies15-17 have also found that people who weigh themselves daily tend to lose more weight than those who weigh themselves less often. Researchers believe the self-monitoring involved with weighing yourself daily increases your self-awareness of how different behaviors affect your weight, which can inspire you to make necessary changes.
Whether you’re 27 or 77, it’s never too early — or late — to commit to the health of your heart. We hope you’ll consider these important findings in coming up with a strategy to help keep your heart in top form.
If you’re interested in bettering your health — Jenny Craig can help. Set up a free appointment and talk to a personal weight loss consultant who will work with you to achieve your goals!
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.