American researchers who have taken a close look at our eating patterns have shown that skipping meals, snacking, and a lack of meal planning increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Our eating patterns have changed over the past 40 years and the rule of three meals a day has been abandoned by many. However, planning meals and snack times, and not skipping breakfast are healthy steps we can take to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
That's the upshot of a scientific statement published this week by the American Heart Association in its journal Circulation.
Researchers at New York's Columbia University have demonstrated that when and how often we eat is as important as what we eat. Our eating habits can have an effect on health markers such as blood pressure, weight and insulin resistance.
The scientists were particularly interested in breakfast which is the meal that has been most affected by our changing lifestyles.
Having reviewed research already undertaken on this subject, the researchers noted that people who had breakfast every day were less likely to have high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels, in contrast to those who skipped the first meal of the day. The 20 to 30 per cent of people who skipped breakfast and snacked throughout the day were at greater risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
"Meal timing may affect health due to its impact on the body's internal clock. In animal studies, it appears that when animals receive food while in an inactive phase, such as when they are sleeping, their internal clocks are reset in a way that can alter nutrient metabolism, resulting in greater weight gain, insulin resistance and inflammation. However, more research would need to be done in humans before that can be stated as a fact," Marie-Pierre St-Onge, the statement's lead author, explained.
The researchers also demonstrated a link between periodic fasting, i.e., from time to time, or once or twice a week, and weight loss, at least in the short term.
They also found that eating late in the evening could increase cardiovascular risk, but further research is required.
The authors of this study recommend intentional eating and planning meals times and content "to combat emotional eating."