Prior studies pinned late dinners to related metabolic problems
Growing evidence suggests that weight control and metabolic health depend in part on how we distribute our calorie intake during the day.
For more on that topic, see Does Late-Night Eating Promote Weight Gain? and its links to related articles.
Because unhealthful weight and metabolism promote cardiovascular disease, it seems logical to presume that distribution of calories during the day also matters to heart health.
And the results of a small study lend that presumption substantial preliminary support.
Study suggests later dinners harm women’s heart health
The new research was presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) 2019 Scientific Sessions.
It was performed by a team led by Nour Makarem, Ph.D. — pictured below — who is a nutritional and chronic disease epidemiologist at Columbia University and an AHA Go Red for Women Postdoctoral Fellow.
Her team recruited 112 female volunteers — aged 33 years on average, nearly half of whom were Hispanic — and assigned each woman a heart-health score at the outset of the study and again one year later.
The women’s heart-health scores were based on the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7®, which consist of key cardiovascular risk factors people can improve through lifestyle changes and monitor via standard medical tests.
Life’s Simple 7® include being physically active, eating healthy foods, controlling body weight, and not smoking, as well as regular monitoring of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
The study participants kept digital food diaries via computer or cell phone to report — using a web-based tool from the National Institutes of Health — what, how much, and when they ate, for one week at the beginning of the study and for one week 12 months later.
Data from each woman’s food diary was then used to determine the relationship between their estimated heart health and how their calorie consumption was distributed throughout the day.
And the results linked later dinners to lower heart-health scores:
- Women who consumed higher proportions of their daily calories after 6 p.m. had lower heart-health scores — which declined with every 1% increase in calories consumed after 6 p.m.
- Specifically, women who consumed more of their calories after 6 p.m. were more likely to have higher blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and unhealthier blood-sugar control.
- The link to higher blood pressure was more pronounced in Hispanic women, and it persisted after the results were adjusted to account for the known pressure-raising effects of increased age and lower socioeconomic status.
- Likewise, every 1% increase in calories consumed after 8 p.m. was linked to declines in heart-health scores.
As Dr. Makarem said, “So far, lifestyle approaches to prevent heart disease have focused on what we eat and how much we eat. These preliminary results indicate eating that’s mindful of the timing and proportion of calories in evening meals may represent a simple, modifiable behavior that can help lower heart disease risk.”
Life’s Simple 7: A heart-health guide from the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association defines Life's Simple 7 as the key risk factors people can improve to help achieve optimal cardiovascular health. This is their verbatim description of the seven factors; we placed asterisks on #2 and #5 to bring your attention to our related comments, located just below the Simple 7 list:
- Manage Blood Pressure – High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.
- Control Cholesterol* – High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages.
- Reduce Blood Sugar – Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
- Get Active – Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.
- Eat Better* – A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy – for life!
- Lose Weight – When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. You give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and you help yourself feel better, too.
- Stop Smoking – Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.
*The long-presumed impacts of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat on people’s cholesterol profiles — and the role of blood cholesterol levels in cardiovascular disease — remain controversial and have been increasingly challenged by newer evidence.
For more on those controversies, see False Advice on Fats?, Growing Pressure to Prescribe Statins, Cholesterol Myth Busted, Is Fat the Real Heart-Attacking Food?, Vegetable Oils Debunked for Heart Disease, and Statin-Heart Advice Attacked.
Makarem N et al. Abstract 11503: Evening Caloric Intake is Associated With Cardiovascular Health in Women: Results From the American Heart Association Go Red for Women Strategically Focused Research Network. Circulation Volume 140, Issue Suppl_1. Accessed at https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circ.140.suppl_1.11503