When and how often you eat could affect the health of your heart, a new study finds. The study, recently published in the journal Circulation, surveyed a wide range of studies on how meal time and frequency affects people’s risk of heart attack, stroke and other heart and blood vessel diseases.
The results? Researchers found evidence from these studies suggesting that people who ate breakfast had a lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. In addition, people who ate more frequently (generally around four to six times per day versus three or fewer) often showed a lower risk of obesity.
Finally, researchers noted an association between “occasional fasting” — fasting that occurs every other day or one to two times a week — and short-term weight loss, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University and an author of the paper, said in a press release from the American Heart Association.
However, researchers cautioned that more studies conducted over a longer period of time are needed to confirm these findings.
Researchers hypothesized that the link between meal timing and frequency and heart health may be due to the body’s internal clock: “In animal studies, it appears that when animals receive food while in an inactive phase, such as when they are sleeping, their internal clocks are reset in a way that can alter nutrient metabolism, resulting in greater weight gain, insulin resistance and inflammation,” St-Onge said in a press release. “However, more research would need to be done in humans before that can be stated as a fact.”
The authors developed a few different recommendations for those hoping to plan their meals in the heart-healthiest way possible.
Practice intentional eating
Focus on timing and frequency of meals, the authors said in the study, and plan meals and snacks during the day. Try to pick healthy food options like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and use meal timing to help manage hunger and practice portion control.
Eat more calories earlier in the day
And try not to snack late at night. This, in turn, may reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Try intermittent fasting
Occasional fasting could be used as a way to help lower caloric intake and reduce body weight for those who need to lose weight (but check with your doctor first!).