Don’t scoff at the evidence: Late meals can kill you

Lifestyle

Don’t scoff at the evidence: Late meals can kill you

Higher risk of breast and prostate cancer from disrupting the body’s internal clock and metabolism

Maria Lally

We’ve all done it: arrived home late from work or spent a couple of hours battling to get young children into bed (or both), before finally settling down to a 9.30pm dinner. Or treated ourselves to an 11pm snack, just because.
But according to a new study, evening snacking and eating dinner too late can increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer by disrupting the body’s internal clock and metabolism.Scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found that people who regularly eat less than two hours before bed have a 25% raised risk of breast and prostate cancer.
“Our study concludes that adherence to diurnal eating patterns is associated with a lower risk of cancer,” says Dr Manolis Kogevinas, who led the study that was published in the International Journal of Cancer. He says his team’s findings highlight the importance of circadian rhythms on diet and cancer.
The study found people who had cancer were more likely to be evening snackers, even when taking into account other factors like age, diet and sleeping patterns.The news will come as no surprise to those who have previously pointed out the risks of shift work: several major studies have found that nurses and aircraft staff have a higher risk of cancer because, among other factors, certain types of cancer are linked to hormonal cues which can become disrupted when the body’s circadian rhythm (its internal clock that tells us when it’s day or night) is also disrupted.
So, where are we going wrong with dinner (and how can we make it right)?
Eating too lateWith the trend of an increase in working hours, it is little wonder the 5pm family dinner is a rarity in many families. But as this study shows, the timing of our meals can be crucial to health: one study from the University of Pennsylvania found that late-night snacking can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease, by raising glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels. “Eating late can also impact on digestion and trigger IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and make for an uncomfortable night’s sleep,” says nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, author of Re-Nourish.
“Modern life is busy and it’s not always possible to eat at 5pm or 6pm, when many of us are still at work or just leaving,” says dietitian Helen Bond. “But trying to bring your dinner forward by just an hour can make a big difference." 
Being unprepared
Bond says a main reason many of us eat dinner so late is because we’re not prepared: “I hear stories of people arriving home late, tired and hungry, to an empty fridge and resorting to quick, processed foods that leave them feeling even more hungry which then leads to evening snacking. If you prep, you’ll eat earlier and healthier, so it’s doubly beneficial to health.“Batch-cook at weekends, or on the evenings you have more time, and freeze meals. Or get a slow cooker so you have something filling, healthy and nutritious waiting for you when you get home.”
Having a low-calorie dinner
“Another thing I see a lot of is people eating a too-small dinner,” says Lambert, “and then they end up snacking on junk all evening to make up for it. So make sure you eat enough at dinner so you don’t need to eat later on, right up until bedtime. A really simple way of gauging the size of your plate is to make use of your hands. As a general rule have one palm sized portion of protein (eg chicken and fish), one handful of carbohydrate (eg rice, oats, starchy vegetables), two handfuls of non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, spinach and pepper) and one thumb of healthy fats (olive oil, butter, coconut oil and nut butter).
Snacking for no reason
Bond says if you’re following all of the above advice and you still find yourself reaching for a post-dinner Magnum, you need to ask yourself why: “The time before dinner and bed is often the danger period when it comes to mindless snacking and drinking alcohol,” she says.“But if you’re eating out of anything other than proper hunger, in a way you’re self-harming with food because all those processed, sugary calories are harmful to your overall health, as this study clearly shows. Is it because you’re bored, or stressed, tired, or using food as a distraction, comfort or coping strategy? Is it simply habitual and do you eat post-dinner snacks purely out of habit? If so, every time you go to snack ask yourself why. You don’t have to deprive yourself – if you want chocolate, have it after lunch. But try not to eat anything for at least three hours before bed to give your digestion a rest and your health a boost.”
- © The Daily Telegraph

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