What to Eat or When To Eat?

woman with big clock

(DGIwire) — There seems to be no shortage of information about what to eat. Virtually all diets revolve around food choices and caloric intake.   Still obesity rates and other health problems continue to increase.

According to scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, when we eat may be as important as what we eat. They found that restricting eating time and extending the daily fasting period is healthy and might even override the adverse health effects of a poor diet along with preventing obesity, diabetes and liver disease, at least in mice.

The objective of the study was to determine whether obesity and metabolic diseases result from a high-fat diet or from a disruption of metabolic cycles. They found that if mice were only allowed to eat during an 8-hour period they were healthier than mice that ate freely throughout the day, regardless of the quality and content of their diet. Their findings suggest that regular eating and then fasting for a significant number of hours a day might be very beneficial to our health.

The researchers fed two genetically similar groups of mice a high-fat diet (60 percent of calories from fat). One group could eat whenever they wanted, consuming half their food at night and nibbling throughout the rest of the day. The other group was restricted to eating for only eight hours every night (mice are naturally nocturnal) and they fasted for 16 hours a day. There were also two control groups that ate a standard diet with 13 percent of calories from fat under similar conditions. The study lasted 100 days.

The mice in the time-restricted feeding group weighed 28 percent less and showed no adverse health effects despite consuming the identical fatty food and identical amount of calories. The mice that were allowed to eat throughout the day gained weight, developed high cholesterol, high blood glucose, liver damage and diminished motor control. Interestingly, the fasting mice outperformed the unrestricted eaters and even those on a normal diet when given an exercise test. No adverse effects were observed with time-restricted eating.

“Reducing calories from fat and eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day has been common dietary advice. However, as this study points out, fasting time or giving our bodies a time-out from eating is also important. Before modern lighting was invented, we naturally ate predominately during daylight hours. Electricity and shift work has dramatically changed our eating patterns and our health,” according to Tom Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust (BSH 2011).

A number of studies have concluded that people who work shifts have an increased risk of a number of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. The incidence of obesity is rising in developed countries and reaching global pandemic proportions. Changes in diet, exercise and are commonly recommended. This study suggests another possible option by preserving natural feeding cycles without altering dietary intake.

Griesel adds, “The cause of obesity is generally assumed to be nutritional. However, this study suggests that spreading calorie intake through the day may be upsetting metabolic pathways governed by our circadian clock. Our bodies store fat while eating and start to burn fat only after a few hours of fasting. When eating frequently, the body continues to make and store fat.”

Constant eating raises blood sugar levels. Time-restricted eating reduces the production of fat, glucose and cholesterol. It reduces fat storage and turns on fat burning mechanisms reducing overall body fat. The body literally burns fat during fasting. Increasing the duration of overnight fasting could be a novel strategy to maintain ideal health and weight without requiring complicated counting of calories or nutrients.