Do you need to eat earlier?

eating dinner

Older people are often mocked for their early dinner times, but could they have the right idea?

We’ve all seen those restaurants with early bird prices, and the 5.30pm clientele is largely pushing retirement age or older.

But research shows squishing the time you eat into a smaller time frame can have significant health benefits.

A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has found a late dinner altered metabolism “in a manner that promotes obesity”.

The study took healthy male and female volunteers with a bedtime between 11pm and 1am, and fed them at two different set times over two days with one routine dinner (RD) and one late dinner (LD) sitting. The experiment was repeated a month later, with participants swapping over their dinner sitting.

Higher blood sugar

The researchers found that a late dinner resulted in 20 per cent higher blood sugar levels and 10 per cent lower fat burning metabolism than the early birds.

The study reported that in previous studies, obese people reported eating more meals later in the day compared to randomly selected controls. Heavier people also often skipped breakfast. Participants in another study who were enrolled in 20-week weight loss programs and who reported eating late, lost less weight than early eaters.

There is a lot of scientific research around a new line of research about time-restricted eating – eating all our food in an eight to 10-hour window each day then fasting for 14 to 16 hours.

Apparently, while our body clocks are ‘strongly sensitive’ to light, the same goes for food. For our bodies to work efficiently they need a break from light, but also food.

Speaking to The Age, University of Adelaide Professor Leonie Heilbronn said there was a cascade of internal actions after a meal.

Shift workers

“As soon as you eat, genes are turned on driving a downstream suite of changes,” she says. 

“As you enter the fasting state, another set of genes take over and genes are switched off.”

So if you want that fast of 14 to 16 hours to improve weight loss, there is an argument to delay breakfast, but the opposite of that is to have an earlier dinner.

Melatonin may also play a part. As the sun goes down, our melatonin levels rise. 

Monash University Associate Professor Sean Cain is an expert in circadian rhythms and says that rising melatonin levels were a signal to our bodies to sleep.

“Whenever anyone is eating when melatonin is high, you tend to see a poorer metabolic reaction,” he says.

“This is part of the reason there’s more metabolic disease in shift workers who are eating more at night and less in the day… We shouldn’t be eating when we have high levels of melatonin.”

So that’s the argument you need to head off to the RSL for a parmi (or parma) at 5.30pm. Just make sure you don’t squeeze in a second dinner or snack before you go to sleep.

What time do you eat? Do you think you would change it for a health boost? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Why do some people live to be 100?

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

One Comment

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  1. RD is at 5:30PM, how many people who are working can have their dinner at this time, if they are working a “normal” 9 to 5 job, with commute time of, say 1 hour, will not be able to have dinner at 5:30, maybe 6:30 at the earliest.
    Also, especially where I live, if you are going to dine out, the majority of Bistros and Restaurants do not start to take orders or serve prior to 6PM.
    Then there is the LD, no timeframe was stated for this dinner time, therefore, is it 8,9 or 10PM ??

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