What are the best times to eat Jake?

One of the benefits of Jake is that there are no rules bound to our meals, you can plan your meals to match your needs. But if you do want some inspiration or are curious to the science behind the times and meals, then this blog’s perfect for you.

It is common knowledge that quantity and quality of our food intake has a big say in our physical and mental health. However, more and more comes to surface explaining the best times in a day to eat your meals and time its contribution to our wellbeing.

The biological basis for an optimal meal timing

Circadian clocks are a biological time management system that is present in pretty much every bodily cell. It coordinates the timing of our daily behaviour (e.g. sleeping/waking up, eating/not eating) and physiology (e.g. hormone release and heartfunction). These clocks are often influenced by signals from our environments, like light and foods, in order to tune our internal clocks to our surroundings.

When your biological clocks do not match your surrounding, there’s a good chance it’s negatively impacting your health. We know that our body expects to use certain fuels (fats and sugars) on certain times a day. Your body can best digest foods when you’re active and there’s light involved. So eating and drinking when your body expects to rest (and it being dark) can strongly disrupt your digestive system. However, having a consistent daily cycle of eating and fasting can help build a healthy circadian clock and optimise your metabolism.

Intermittent fasting and time restricted eating

There’s different diet types you can use to control your eating habits. We’ll now dive deeper in to intermittent fasting (IF) and time restricted eating (TRE).

Intermittent fasting means you get less or no calories during certain periods of time. There’s multiple IF diets out there, including:

  1. Fasting every other day: complete fasting (water only) mixed with normal eating days.
  2. Varied fasting every other day: fasting for 75% less calories, combined with normal eating days.
  3. Periodical fasting: full fasting days, usually one day a week or multiple days a month. Consuming a low-calorie diet (often <1000kcal) during 3 to 5 following days every 2 or 3 months. The 5:2-diet is a specific version of periodical fasting, usually 5 days a week without limitations (time or calories) and 2 days of adjusted fasting (with limitations, time or calories).

Our body uses stored energy, one of them being fats, during fasting. This makes the keton-levels rise, to meet the bodies energy standards. Research suggests fasting improves many organ functions, including your brains.

Time restricted eating (TRE) is a new strategy for meal timing where you digest all of your daily calories in an interval of 8 to 12 hours or shorter. There are leads on TRE improving the metabolism and cardiovascular health by optimising the circadian clock. In mice, for example, time restricted feeding (TRF) prevents obesity and reverses diabetes, supports healthy bacteria in the gut and reduces inflammation. In fruit flies, TRF prevents and solves heart problems caused by unhealthy diets and ageing. In rodents, TRF also has other benefits, such as reducing the symptoms of Huntington’s disease. Small human studies have tested a daily eating duration of 4 to 11 hours a day and found that TRE lowers blood pressure, improves blood sugar levels and can help with weight, energy levels, sleep and appetite. Some benefits of TRE even occurred when people were not losing weight, suggesting that a shorter daily eating duration may improve health independent of weight loss. In human studies, there has been no explicit attempt to reduce calories, but some calorie reduction may occur, which could explain some of the health benefits.

The effect of when we eat

In addition to daily eating duration, the time of day we eat (also called the phase) seems to influence our health. For example, metabolic research in mice often uses a high-fat diet to induce obesity and metabolic disorders, to study them and to test therapeutic interventions. Interestingly, mice on a high-fat diet change their diet and eat a significantly greater proportion of their food during their usual sleep/rest phase, compared to mice on a low-fat diet. Studies have shown that calorie intake during the sleep/rest phase plays a role in metabolic diseases.

Research in young adults has shown that eating when the levels of the sleep hormone melatonin begin to rise (just before bedtime) is associated with having more body fat. In a randomised weight-loss study, obese women who ate earlier in the day lost more weight. A small study in adults found that eating late at night increases blood sugar levels after the meal and the next day. Observational studies in humans have also shown that eating late at night is associated with obesity and a greater risk of poor cardiometabolic health.

The circadian system prepares the body to digest, absorb and metabolise food more efficiently earlier in the day (active phase). For example, insulin sensitivity (needed to regulate blood sugar) is greater in the morning. Thus, larger meals are better processed when eaten in the first half of the day. Conversely, since melatonin (released at night) reduces insulin release, the body cannot process glucose well if you eat late in the evening or very early in the morning, when melatonin is high. Therefore, it may be helpful to eat larger meals earlier in the day and avoid food a few hours before bedtime.

The effects of skipping breakfast are less clear. Research on breakfast habits through surveys, has shown that never having breakfast is often associated with increased risk of diabetes type 2 and/or obesity. These studies have also shown that skipping breakfast often results in eating late at night, differing eating patterns and poor food quality (more snacking with increased fats/sugars and less fruit and vegetables). Although observational data has suggested that eating breakfast is associated with lower weight, a large randomised controlled trial found that skiping breakfast (for 4 months) was associated with weight change in healthy and obese adults. The long-term effects of skipping breakfast are still unclear.

Frequency of eating

Our circadian system is mostly signalled when we eat food. That’s why it’s important to eat on consistent times to support our basic circadian rhythm. So changing your meals drastically from day to day, can interrupt your physiology, just as our sleeping pattern can be interrupted due to major change of timezone (jetlag). Mobile apps that track eating habits found that the majority of people have erratic eating habits, like eating and sleeping on different times on workdays instead of the weekend. Irregular eating patterns are often connected to obesity and diabetes type 2. That’s why having a consistent eating pattern can be beneficial for your health.

There are many differing results on the amount of meals you need for an optimal health. A solid answer to eating 3 or 5 times a day isn’t there yet.

What is the best eating habit?

There’s little to no studies with people comparing meal schedules to see which strategy beats the others. To our knowledge and available research, there’s three eating habits that are probably important for good health:

  1. A consistent daily eating pattern of less than 12 hours a day
  2. Eating most of your calories at the start of your day
  3. Avoid eating (a lot of) food just before sleeping, during any rest or in the early morning, when melatonin levels are high.

Side note

There is insufficient research to the effects of Intermittent Fasting and Time Restricted Eating for both men and women of all ages. Although short term studies found no negative effects with ≥8 hours TRE, long term effects remain unknown. It’s also important to note that certain eating habits and patterns may differ in outcome, varying per individual; what one may experience as optimal can be different for others.

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