I'll admit that I don't always eat at the most appropriate of times. Some days you get in from work a little late and spend a little time cooking, resulting in a lovely meal you're eating far too late in the evening for your body to properly benefit from. Sometimes there's a good reason for eating in the later hours, but at other times it's just because you've been out drinking and your desire for fast food has taken over your brain - either way, it's a habit you should really avoid.
You may have been told when you were growing up that this is the case, but new research from the University of Pennsylvania has found that there may be even more danger to the practice than we initially thought. In the study, nine healthy adults were told to eat three meals and two snacks between the hours of 8am and 7pm for eight weeks.
After a two-week wash-out period to ensure there were no carry-over effects, some of them were told to switch up their eating habits. While their sleep schedules and the amount that they ate was kept the same, these participants were told to eat only between the hours of midday and 11pm for a further eight weeks.
This group put on weight during the second period, hitting higher levels of insulin, glucose and cholesterol. These effects could cause type 2 diabetes in the longterm, as well as increase the risk of heart disease.
Namni Goel, lead author of the study and a research associate professor of psychology in Psychiatry in the division of Sleep and Chronobiology, said of the study:
"We know from our sleep loss studies that when you’re sleep deprived, it negatively affects weight and metabolism in part due to late-night eating, but now these early findings, which control for sleep, give a more comprehensive picture of the benefits of eating earlier in the same day.
"Eating later can promote a negative profile of weight, energy and hormone markers – such as higher glucose and insulin, which are implicated in diabetes and cholesterol and triglycerides, which are linked with cardiovascular problems and other health conditions."
In addition to this, senior author Kelly Allison, who is an associate professor and director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders, believes that there is a simple take away from their research: eat earlier in the day.
"While lifestyle change is never easy, these findings suggest that eating earlier in the day may be worth the effort to help prevent these detrimental chronic health effects," she explained.
It's worth taking this into account when you're craving a midnight snack, or fancy grabbing some food on the way back from a long night out clubbing. Once in a while we all commit this particular crime, but if you make a regular habit of it - you may end up putting your health at risk.