AHA Calls for Timing Meals to Lower Cardiovascular Risk

Busy lifestyles are eroding the lines of traditional meal times, and all-day eating is bad for cardiovascular health, the statement says.

Busy lifestyles and the erosion of the family dinner hour are bad for health, and the American Heart Association (AHA) on Monday issued a statement calling for better meal planning—not just what people eat, but when.

The scientific statement, appearing in the journal Circulation, finds that increasingly varied eating patterns contribute to obesity, poor lipid profiles, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. This intermittent eating—and habits like skipping breakfast or late-night snacking—doesn’t help people maintain a healthy cardiometabolic profile.

“Typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals are difficult to distinguish because skipping meals and snacking have become more prevalent,” the statement said.

To help researchers navigate the effect of varied eating patterns, the AHA proposed specific definitions of meals, snacks, and eating occasions that would become standard. They note that there’s not enough evidence yet to determine the best times to eat or how often, and more work needs to be done to figure out how long people should go between meals and the optimal calories consumed.

The AHA team putting out the statement did say, however, that eating too quickly could lead to eating too often.

“Although more direct translational research is still needed, these data suggest that intervening on meal timing and frequency may be beneficial,” they wrote. “By focusing on meal frequency and timing as an intervention target, patients may directly address poor dietary quality without the need to deal with calorie restrictions to promote weight loss.”

“Ultimately,” the researchers say, “the clinician’s goal may be to help the patient spread energy intake over a defined portion of the day in a more balanced way rather than limited 1 segment of the day or continuously over long periods of time.”

Reference

St Onge MP, Ard J, Baskin ML, et al. Meal timing and frequency: implications for cardiovascular disease prevention: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association [published online January 30, 2017]. Circulation. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000476.