New research finds that eating more calories in the evening is associated with poorer cardiovascular health in women.
Evidence is accumulating that meal times can impact cardiometabolic health.
Other studies, in mice and human participants, showed that setting strict mealtimes can help control blood sugar levels.
Now, new research adds to this mounting evidence and suggests that eating more calories in the evening may negatively affect women’s cardiovascular health.
The new research is preliminary and will be presented at the American Heart Association’s (AHA’s) Scientific Sessions 2019, which is taking place in Philadelphia, PA.
Nour Makarem, Ph.D., an associate research scientist at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York, is the lead author of the study.
Studying eating patterns and heart health
Makarem and colleagues recruited 112 healthy women, who were 33 years old, on average, to participate in the study.
The researchers examined the participants’ cardiovascular health at baseline and 1 year later using Life’s Simple 7 — a measure of cardiovascular health that comprises seven modifiable risk factors, as established by the AHA.
Life’s Simple 7 account for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, physical activity, diet, weight, and smoking status. Based on these factors, the researchers calculated a cardiovascular health score for each participant.
The women also used food diaries on their cell phones to track and report how much, what, and when they ate for 1 week at baseline and another week 12 months later.
The researchers used the data from the electronic diaries to calculate the relationship between cardiovascular health and the timing of the meals.
Fewer late calories may boost heart health
The research revealed that participants who consumed more calories after 6 p.m. tended to have poorer cardiovascular health.
In fact, for each 1% increase in caloric intake after 6 p.m., the cardiovascular health score declined. Blood pressure and body mass index tended to rise, and blood sugar control tended to be poorer.
The analysis yielded similar results for every 1% increase in calories after 8 p.m.
Hispanic women, in particular — who made up 44% of the participants — had higher blood pressure when they ate more calories in the evening.
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The study’s lead author comments on the findings saying, “So far, lifestyle approaches to prevent heart disease have focused on what we eat and how much we eat.”
“These preliminary results indicate that intentional eating that is mindful of the timing and proportion of calories in evening meals may represent a simple, modifiable behavior that can help lower heart disease risk.”
Nour Makarem, Ph.D.
The lead researcher also points out that for the findings to be more reliable, they would have to be replicated in a larger sample and in different populations.
Dr. Kristin Newby, a professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University, in Durham, NC, who was not involved in the research, comments on the results.
“I think it’s an important study,” she says. “It’s foundational more than definitive at this point, but I think it provides some really interesting insights into an aspect of nutrition and how it relates to cardiovascular risk factors that we really haven’t thought about before.”