When you eat can dictate your health

Follow these two rules to keep chronic diseases at bay

We all know that what we eat has a profound effect on our health. But new research reveals that when we eat is just as crucial.

It all has to do with the circadian clock—the internal clock that tells every mammal, including humans, when to eat, sleep, and perform other key metabolic processes.

But environmental factors and poor lifestyle choices can wreak havoc with this system.

Fortunately, it’s easy to keep your circadian clock on time. Here’s what you need to know…

What ancient and modern science tells us about the circadian clock

Virtually everything in the natural world has daily and seasonal cycles. Ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medical practitioners have always known this—and modern research shows these sages were way ahead of their time, yet again.

One recent study found that the first 12 hours of a 24-hour circadian cycle are associated with cortisol release, a rapid increase in blood pressure, higher alertness, better motor coordination, fastest reaction times, and highest body temperatures. The second 12 hours bring melatonin secretion, deepest sleep, and lowest body temperatures. Then, the cycle starts all over again.

(This is another reason why it’s better and safer to add an extra hour of dark in the morning rather than in the evening, when it comes to fooling around with our internal clocks for “daylight savings time.”)

Other research shows that the circadian clock influences all cell and organ functions.  And that more than half of the genes in the human body are also regulated on a circadian cycle.

That’s why it’s no surprise that disruptions to the cycle have been linked to chronic diseases, like:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Dementia and neurological disorders
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Sleep disorders

The good news is that you can help restore your circadian clock when it starts running too fast or too slow. And it’s as simple as knowing when to eat your meals.

Why it’s important to eat earlier in the day

At the American Society for Nutrition conference in June 2019, researchers presented studies showing that diet and nutrition, including meal times and patterns, influence the circadian clock at the cellular and molecular levels.

In particular, time-restricted feeding and intermittent fasting (IF) help balance the circadian clock. And, it turns out, these two approaches tend to go hand-in-hand.

IF means you don’t eat for at least 12 hours. This can be as easy as not eating anything up to four hours before you go to bed—and then having a hearty breakfast after a good night’s sleep.

Time-restricted feeding follows the ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medical practices of timing meals with the daily cycle of the sun. When the sun is climbing highest in the sky (in late morning), your “metabolic fires” are burning at their hottest—so it’s a good time to eat.

In fact, the highly recommended Mediterranean-style diet’s tradition of consuming the heartiest meal at mid-day is keyed to the daily sun as well. So, make sure your lunch includes Mediterranean components like full-fat dairy, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, herbs, and spices, along with liberal use of olive oil and moderate consumption of wine.

Two simple ways to keep your circadian clock ticking

When I was a child in France, two- or three-hour lunch “hours,” with a little nap after the mid-day meal, were de rigueur. Stores and businesses completely shut down between noon and 3 p.m., and the streets would grow quiet. Then, shops would re-open and stay open until 7 p.m.

Many schools and businesses would also close early on Thursdays (or simply not re-open after the noon hiatus), and then operate on half days on Saturdays.  Of course, nothing was open on Sundays or holidays. Plus, there are the five week-long summer vacations mandated by French law.

Practices like these made it easy for people to keep their circadian clocks ticking strongly. Today, in the U.S., you may have to work a little harder. But all you have to do is follow these two easy steps:

1.) Eat your biggest meals before evening.

2.) Try to have at least a 12-hour break between dinner and breakfast.

Voila! What a simple way to help prevent virtually every chronic disease associated with aging!