The Science Behind The Absolute Worst Time To Eat Dinner

You've probably heard plenty of reasons why you shouldn't snack before bed, such as a higher risk of acid reflux, poor sleep quality, and challenges maintaining a healthy weight. However, a study published in Nature Communications found that eating dinner after a certain time may be linked to even greater health risks, specifically those that affect heart health.

The study, which assessed the health and eating habits of 103,389 participants, found that those who ate their first meal after 9 a.m. and their last meal after 9 p.m. (as opposed to eating the first meal before 8 a.m. and the last meal prior to 8 p.m.) had a higher chance of experiencing cardiovascular issues, including heart attacks and strokes. These effects were most prevalent among women who participated in the study. It should be noted that further research and testing are needed to verify these outcomes. Despite the need for more evidence, the study does make a compelling argument for eating an earlier dinner whenever possible.

Why it's better to eat an early dinner (and an early breakfast)

The potential health risks of late dinners lead lots of people to wonder when they actually should be eating. In general, eating dinner between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. is recommended to avoid any possible health risks that consuming food late might entail. Having dinner in the early evening will prevent sleeplessness and indigestion, but it may also benefit heart health.

Because the study featured in Nature Communications also found possible issues with eating a late breakfast, the timing of your first meal of the day also matters. In this case, try to eat breakfast before 8:30 a.m. Having breakfast at this time is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. Nutrition is also a key concern for the first meal of the day. Fortunately, there are plenty of high protein breakfast options (other than eggs), including quinoa bowls, tofu scrambles, and tempeh "bacon" bits.

How can you quell late night hunger pangs?

Eating late at night may be unavoidable at times. In this case, choosing wholesome, nutritious foods ensures you're not doing greater harm to your health. To indulge your sweet tooth, consider adding fruit or honey to Greek yogurt, which contains essential nutrients like calcium and protein and supports good gut health. Hummus and vegetables are another good pre-bedtime snack, as hummus is low in fat and calories but offers nutrients like protein, iron, and fiber.

There are also ways you can avoid feeling hungry at night, such as carefully planning daily meals. Meal planning prevents spontaneous snacking and allows you to make better choices when it comes to nutrition. To make the process easier, consider meal prepping all your ingredients at once when getting ready for the week ahead. While more research is needed to determine whether late-night dinners significantly affect heart health, being thoughtful about what and when you eat is always the best option.