Can irregular meal timings be detrimental to health?

Eating on time is essential as circadian rhythms are believed to influence eating habits and digestion among other things, writes Sheela Krishnaswamy

health

For decades, we have been told that eating meals at regular intervals promotes health. Some studies have shown that skipping meals like breakfast can veer a person towards poor snacking behaviour. Are regular meal timings better than skipping meals or erratic meal timings?

According to research, breakfast is the most commonly skipped meal. Women are more likely to miss breakfast while men are more likely to miss lunch or dinner. Skipping meals or poor meal timings can cause low energy levels, lead to decrease in muscle mass, increase the risk of weight gain and Type 2 diabetes, increase irritability, and decrease the ability to think straight. Irregular meal timings cause fluctuation in blood glucose levels which works against weight management and diabetes.

Common excuses for skipping meals or not eating on time are excess workload, long commutes, lack of appetite, unappealing food, lack of time, desire to lose weight or fixation over body image.

None of these excuses diminish the importance of eating on time or eating healthy. Ancient wisdom teaches us to eat on time and to space out our meals. Circadian rhythms are believed to influence eating habits and digestion among other things. Disruption in circadian rhythms have been linked to chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, dyslipidemia (abnormal lipid levels), sleep disorders and so on.

Beyond doubt, it’s important to maintain a schedule for eating. However, there are no fixed timings for every meal. In other words, there’s no ideal timetable for meals that would suit everybody. As a guideline, it would be good to eat breakfast before 9 am, lunch between noon and 2 pm, and dinner before 9 pm. It’s good to leave a gap of at least 4 to 5 hours between major meals. An evening snack would help to stave off hunger between lunch and dinner. However, if you have the habit of eating dinner early, there’s no need to include a snack in the evening.

Although each person’s food habits are different, it pays to include a variety of food groups in the meals in order to meet the nutrient requirements. As a guideline, breakfast should consist of carbohydrates and protein, lunch should have a good mix of all the food groups that provide both macro and micronutrients, evening snack should be small in quantity but high in nutrition, and dinner could be similar to lunch or something different but lesser than lunch in quantity.

(The author is nutrition & wellness consultant)

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