Dr Aidin Rawshani

Late evening meals and weight gain: true or false?


There is a common opinion that late evening meals lead to weight gain, but it’s not quite that simple. One the nutrition experts recommend that you eat your larger meals (and the majority of your calories) earlier in the day, because you will have more time to burn them away before bedtime.

In an article published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers at King’s College London explored the eating habits of 1,620 children using data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme collected between 2008 and 2012.

They tested for a relationship between the evening meal (meals consumed after 20:00) and risk of overweight and/or obesity, while taking height for several for relevant “confounding variables”. The researchers behind the study did not observe a significant link between eating after 20:00 and overweight in children.

Are all calories equal?

There are many studies that show similar results to the above study, contrary to popular belief, several studies have consistently shown that there is no direct link between what time you eat and weight gain. From a metabolic point of view, one calorie eaten at breakfast is equal to one calorie consumed in the evening. Weight gain occurs if you consume more calories than you burn, regardless of when you consume them.

What causes weight gain?

There are still reasons to pay attention to our evening meals, and it depends largely on the types of foods that are often consumed at night.Snacks after dinner usually consist of high-calorie foods such as chocolate, ice cream, chips, sweets and other sweets that are not necessarily eaten by but for other reasons such as boredom, stress, fatigue or unaccustomed (e.g. when watching TV or working with the computer). It is this type of lifestyle that can lead to overeating and lead to more calories than we need.

Do late evening meals have an impact on digestion and sleep?

Apart from the extra calories, late evening meals can lead to other health problems, for example, digestion can be affected. When sleeping, the blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract is reduced, which affects digestion, metabolism goes into a state of rest. Lying down in bed immediately after eating can lead to indigestion and cause symptoms such as acid regurgitation and heartburn.

These symptoms are most often caused by fatty and spicy foods, which should be avoided in the evening if nocturnal indigestion is experienced.Sleep can also be adversely affected by late evening meals, especially sweet snacks, leading to rising blood sugar levels. An increase in blood sugar leads to an increased stress response in the body, which in turn raises cortisol levels. This reduces the quality of sleep because it reduces the amount of “deep sleep” (REM).

Eat healthy in the evening

To get the best out of your evening meal, the following healthy food tips are recommended:

Make sure your evening meal is satiating by including a good source of protein and lots of fiber rich vegetables. If you deal with hunger reduces cravings for sugar-rich evening meals.If you know that you are a regular “snacker”, be sure to have some healthier options at hand such as berries and natural yogurt, oatmeal cookies and organic peanut butter, or a handful of nuts.Avoid sugar, caffeine and surplus of alcohol near bedtime, which can disrupt hormones and have a negative impact on sleep.If you regularly suffer from stomach upset at night, note a food diary in which you write down meals and symptoms to help identify which foods can trigger these symptoms, and avoid eating these in the evening.

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