Industry-backed studies don't deter from meal frequency factor in healthy heart and weight

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Late night eating has been strongly linked to a negative effect on weight and cardiovascular health. ©iStock
Late night eating has been strongly linked to a negative effect on weight and cardiovascular health. ©iStock

Related tags: Nutrition

Maintaining a healthy weight and heart is as much an issue of meal timing and frequency as it is the meal’s make up, US researchers have found despite a 'skewed positive results about the benefits of breakfast' from industry-backed studies. 

Conclusions from a review carried out by the American Heart Association (AHA) have found consuming breakfast, not eating late-night and forward meal-planning may lower the risk of heart disease, blood vessel diseases and stroke.

Individuals, who consume breakfast daily, are less likely to have high cholesterol and blood pressure. Those who don’t eat breakfast are at a higher risk of obesity and diabetes.  

While several studies have shown the benefit of eating breakfast every morning, the AHA highlighted the credibility of industry-funded results after Kellogg and General Mills, two of the largest cereal manufacturers, had funded some of this research.

“This could have skewed positive results about the benefit of breakfast,”​ the AHA said. “Further research is needed to understand how breakfast could help people control their weight.”

Despite these findings, the research team was adamant this was not a license to consume high fat, sugar and salt food on a regular basis.

The review stressed that it was still key that a healthy diet, consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, was maintained.

The theory that meal timing and frequency can have an effect on cardiovascular health is not a new one, having been tested in a number of studies in the past.

Meal timing and frequency are also associated with risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Despite strong evidence, the scientific community are divided over what the best approach is.

“There’s conflicting evidence about meal frequency,”​ said Dr Marie-Pierre St-Onge, lead study author and associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University.

“Studies have shown the benefit of intermittent fasting and eating smaller, frequent meals throughout the day.”

“I can see scenarios where intermittent fasting can backfire,"​ countered Dr Penny Kris-Etherton, co-study author and nutrition professor at Penn State University.

“For example, people who fast one day could eat more than twice as much the next day,” ​she said.

She also pointed out the implications of fasting regularly for long periods and then adopting a regular eating schedule.

AHA investigations

breakfast cereal blueberries
Breakfast has been associated with a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. ©iStock

The AHA team began reviewing epidemiological and clinical evidence that looked at eating patterns and how they related to cardiometabolic health markers in adults.

They focused on patterns of food consumption as they were a better reflection of mealtimes and eating frequency rather than dietary profiles such as nutrient intakes.

“We suggest eating mindfully, by paying attention to planning both what you eat and when you eat meals and snacks, to combat emotional eating,”​ said Dr St-Onge.

“Many people find that emotions can trigger eating episodes when they are not hungry, which often leads to eating too many calories from foods that have low nutritional value.”

Late-night eating not advised

Based on the review’s findings, the researchers also pointed to the losses to health that late-night eating could have on weight and heart health.

According to the Assocation, late night eating affects the body’s internal clock, which responds to circadian rhythms when metabolising food and absorbing nutrients.

“Circadian rhythms also guide sleep and wake cycles,”​ the statement read. “Emerging evidence shows that the liver and other organs have their own clocks that also affect metabolism, which may also explain why late night snacks and meals are detrimental.”

Source: Circulation

Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000476

“Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.”

Authors: Marie-Pierre St-Onge et al.

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