A new study published in the journal Nutrients suggests that eating dinner before 8 pm is optimal for health and longevity. The researchers found that people who ate dinner earlier tended to have lower risks of metabolic problems like obesity and high blood pressure compared to nighttime eaters.
So what’s so magical about 7 pm? The researchers think it comes down to our natural circadian rhythms. “Eating in sync with our biological clocks by eating earlier in the evening may positively impact health,” says study author Dr. Courtney Peterson, Assistant Professor of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Our bodies run on daily cycles known as circadian rhythms. They regulate everything from our hunger hormones to our sleep patterns, telling us when to eat, sleep, and wake up. It appears that eating too late at night – or close to our natural bedtime – could disrupt these rhythms and throw our metabolism out of sync.
The Dangers of Late Night Snacking
The researchers looked at data from people who took part in the REGARDS study, analyzing the relationship between eating time, breakfast timing, fasting duration, and heart health.
What they found was eating later in the evening was associated with higher risks of heart disease and diabetes. In fact, people who regularly had dinner after 8 pm were a massive 78% more likely to have heart disease than early eaters. They were also twice as likely to have diabetes.
Some experts theorize that eating so close to bedtime means our bodies don’t have time to metabolize fats and sugars as energy before switching over to rest and recovery mode. This results in higher glucose and fat levels floating around the blood, potentially increasing diabetes and heart disease risk factors.
The Sweet Spot for Dinner Time
Based on the study findings, the researchers conclude that eating dinner before 8 pm is best, while eating it any time after 9 pm is strongly associated with heart disease and diabetes.
So what does this mean in terms of advice? “We recommend adults eat dinner before 8 pm and try to keep their eating within a 10- to 12-hour window each day,” says Dr. Peterson.
Eating between 7 am and 7 pm, for example, allows your body enough fasting time overnight and keeps your food intake to daylight hours when your metabolism is most active.
Tips for Early, Circadian Eating
Wondering how to shift to an optimal early eating routine? Here are some practical tips to get your dinner on the table by 7 pm:
- Plan quick, simple meals in advance so healthy dinner is ready ASAP when you get home. Soups, salads, sandwiches, rice bowls and sheet pan meals come together fast.
- Avoid long commutes and late nights at the office when you can. Getting home earlier makes fitting in dinner by 7 pm much more feasible.
- Turn off devices like phones and laptops while eating so you can focus just on enjoying the meal itself. This “internet detox” removes distractions so you don’t end up lingering later into the evening.
- Eat lunch on the earlier side, around noon or 1 pm. This prevents you from getting ravenous and desperate later on.
The Next Steps
While the findings on optimal dinner timing are intriguing, the researchers say more work is needed to directly establish cause-and-effect. Future studies will explore how shifting eating time impacts health indicators over time.
But it can’t hurt to pilot an earlier eating schedule for yourself and see if you feel better as a result! After all, eating in closer alignment with your circadian rhythms just might help you live a longer, healthier and more energetic life.