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Nov 06, 2018

Big Evening Meals Increase Risk for Prediabetes and High Blood Pressure

Eating earlier in the day could be better for heart health, finds study of Hispanic adults.

Saving most of your calories for the evening may spell trouble for heart health, based on a study that found eating big meals after 6 p.m. increases risk for prediabetes and high blood pressure in Hispanics. These findings will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2018 in Chicago and highlight the importance of diet when it comes to heart health.

This study analyzed data from the Hispanic Community Health Study, which looks into possible causes of health disparities among Hispanic and Latino communities. Overall, the study includes over 16,000 participants from four U.S. communities in San Diego, Illinois, New York City and Miami. The recent study included just over 12,700 of these participants who completed detailed surveys about their dietary habits.

Overall, researchers found that more than half of participants consumed more than 30% of their food intake after 6 p.m. Interestingly, these nighttime eaters were 23% more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who ate most of their calories during the day. Researchers also found that those consuming 30% or more of their calories after in the evening had 19% greater risk for developing prediabetes compared to those who ate smaller meals at night.

High blood pressure and prediabetes are known risk factors for heart disease—the No. 1 killer of Americans. Having a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet, can help control blood pressure and blood sugar levels. However, we may want to pay added attention to not just what we eat but when we eat, based on findings.

“There is increasing evidence that when we eat is important, in addition to what we eat and how much we eat,” said Nour Makarem, PhD, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “In our study, we show that if you eat most of your calories before 6 p.m., you may have better cardiovascular health,” she said.

However, authors also note that these are some of the earliest data on the role of meal timing and its impact on heart health. The study was not designed to test cause and effect, since it included participant data from a single point in time. Findings also can’t be generalized to the overall population, since participants were all Hispanic or Latino.

Still, experts encourage future research on the issue. It’s possible that meal timing matters, according to Dr. Makarem, and eating earlier in the day may be an important way to help lower the risk for heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • What are health disparities?
  • Health disparities refer to differences in health outcomes or burdens of disease between groups of people. Health disparities can exist between different populations of race, sex, income, or even geographic location. In health care, the goal is to eliminate these differences so all individuals have the same ability to achieve good health.

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