Late Night Eating Adds to the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

An old rule of thumb relative to the timing and volume of food consumption is to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. Subsequent eating strategies to combat the worldwide obesity disease classification is to have a higher energy intake at lunch to protect against the weight gain associated with late night eating. 

According to research—“A Higher Intake of Energy at Dinner Is Associated with Incident Metabolic Syndrome: A Prospective Cohort Study in Older Adults” – which appeared in the September 2021 online issue of the journal Nutrients, “neural and endocrine, as well as behavioral functions, have 24-hour rhythms and are major determinants of human metabolism” — known as the circadian clock. 

Employees on the night shift, it appears, have a harder time managing their weight due to diurnal changes in their internal clock’s set point.

The Nutrient study authors, from Spain and Sweden, note that, “the detrimental influence of the misalignment of clocks (such as late night eating, shift work, or jet lag) on metabolic risk has contributed further to the emerging body of evidence,” and its association with obesity.

They go so far to comment that, “a higher energy intake (EI) at night is associated with a higher risk of obesity, while a higher EI at lunch protects against weight gain. In addition, it has been suggested that avoiding eating late could be a strategy to help prevent obesity and the metabolic syndrome (MetS).”

MetS, according to the study authors, is determined by meeting at least three of the following five criteria: abdominal obesity (waist circumference of ≥102 cm in men and ≥88 cm in women); fasting blood glucose of ≥100 mg/dL or receiving antidiabetic drugs; systolic/diastolic blood pressure of ≥130/ 85 mmHg or receiving antihypertensive drugs; serum triglycerides of ≥150 mg/dL; and serum HDL-cholesterol of <40 mg/dL in men and <50 mg/dL in women. 

The researcher used a study population, which included 607 individuals aged ≥ 60 and free from MetS at baseline, who were followed from 2008–2010 until 2015. At baseline, habitual EI was assessed on six eating occasions: breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and snacking. 

The purpose was to examine the association between EI throughout the day and incident metabolic syndrome (MetS) among older adults. 

When the data was compiled and analyzed, it was determined that a, “higher percentage of EI at dinner was associated with an increased risk of MetS. Replacing the EI consumed at breakfast or at any other eating occasion with the same amount of energy at dinner also increased the risk of the MetS.”

The analysis aslo revealed that elevated waist circumference and triglycerides were the MetS components that most contributed to this association.

The researchers concluded that, “these findings suggest that a reduction of energy intake at dinner may be useful to prevent MetS. However, the efficacy of this strategy must be proven in future clinical trials with populations.”

Interested in Reading More? Check Out Metabolic Syndrome: How Exercise Can Be Medicine