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When you eat can be as important as what you eat, Heart Association says

Remember good old breakfast, lunch and dinner? Americans have pretty much thrown that out the window, the American Heart Association says.
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Remember good old breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Americans have pretty much thrown that out the window, the American Heart Association says. And that may affect how much weight we are putting on.

In fact, it might be a good idea to plan when to eat as much as what to eat, the group says in a new scientific statement. The association appointed a committee of experts to review the evidence from dozens of reports for one big study.

“This study clearly demonstrated that adults in the United States eat around the clock,” the American Heart Association says in the statement, published in the journal Circulation.

It’s still not 100 percent clear if it’s better to eat breakfast every day, or to eat less after 6 p.m. But a growing body of evidence does suggest that breakfast is good for you and that eating late at night can help you put on more pounds, even if you skipped meals earlier in the day.

women having salads
New research shows Americans are eating around the clock, but need a little better planning to make that work for their hearts.Shutterstock

“Meal timing may affect health due to its impact on the body’s internal clock,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University who helped write the statement.

Animal studies show that eating right before sleep might alter metabolism not only to promote weight gain, but in harmful ways that could help lead of diabetes and heart disease.

“However, more research would need to be done in humans before that can be stated as a fact,” she said.

And more people are eating late because more people are eating at all hours, the Heart Association team found. Between 1971 and 2010, the percentage of men who eat three squares a day fell from 73 percent of men in the 1970s to 59 percent in 2010. While 75 percent of women said they ate three meals a day in the 70s, by 2010 just 63 percent did.

RELATED: Timing meals may help you drop weight

Skipping breakfast may or may not cause people to put on weight — studies have mixed results — but people who do not eat breakfast are far less likely to get enough vitamins and mineral, the Heart Association team found.

And one consistent finding – the occasional short fast may be downright good for you. Several studies have found that people who fast as often as every other day or as little as one day a week can lose more weight than people who do not.

Beyond that, there is little consistent evidence on whether it’s best to eat at any given time, although smaller, more frequent meals may be both more fashionable and perfectly good for health, the Heart Association said.

“The impact of meal timing, particularly related to the evening meal, deserves further study,” the report reads.

RELATED: Heart Association has new sugar guidelines

So until there’s more firm guidance, what should people do? Slow down, plan and enjoy eating, the group recommends.

“We suggest eating mindfully, by paying attention to planning both what you eat and when you eat meals and snacks, to combat emotional eating,” St-Onge said.

“Many people find that emotions can trigger eating episodes when they are not hungry, which often leads to eating too many calories from foods that have low nutritional value.”