The health benefits of an early dinner

Sweta Vikram

While I was growing up, my mother was very particular about us finishing dinner by 7:30pm. So once I moved to the United States, the concept of eating dinner by 6:30pm was not a huge challenge for me. I only had to adjust my schedule by an hour. But it was not easy for my husband who grew up in Mumbai where between traffic, work demands, and lifestyle, people rarely get to their dinner tables before 9:00pm. That is the reality for many who live in big cities and spend hours commuting.

For many people, dinnertime provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the day and connect with family or friends over a delicious meal. Many of us wait for this time to share our day with loved ones. Cackles, complaints, love, laughter, and more accompany dinner traditions in many homes. And yet, depending on where you live and what you do for a living, by the time you assemble the family, it might be 9:30pm, with dinner winding up late in the night. That pushes your sleep to midnight and beyond. That’s a recipe for disaster!

According to Ayurveda, it’s not just what we eat that matters for our health, but also when we eat and what we digest. We are miniature units of nature. When the sun goes down, so does our digestive fire. Eating dinner early and making it your smallest meal not only is beneficial for weight loss and management, but also helps you to sleep better since your body has had time to digest the food you ate hours before. Eating dinner late is linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Experts around the world haven’t been stressing on maintaining the two to three-hour gap between bedtime and dinner for nothing. Research has found that people who eat earlier benefit from better heart health than those who don’t eat until later at night. In the study that was published in Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in June 2020, the researchers discovered that those who ate dinner at 10 pm experienced peak blood sugar levels 20 percent higher than people who ate dinner at 6 pm.

Eating junk food
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According to Dr. Louis J. Aronne, Director of the Weight Control Program at Weill Cornell Medical College-New York Presbyterian Hospital, people who eat late at night tend to eat more. In addition, studies show that late-night munching increases triglyceride levels. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t use right away into triglycerides; and high levels may increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Anna Almiroudis, who has a master’s in clinical nutrition and integrative health with a specialty in herbal medicine, says, “Nighttime eating is associated with reduced sleep quality and duration (one theory is that late eating may be associated with circadian desynchronization). Poor sleep quality is in turn also linked to insulin resistance, increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and depression, etc.”

“I recommend shifting dinner and sleep times earlier to all my clients, so that they are able to balance their glucose levels, store less fat and give their digestive systems much needed rest. One of Her Shakti’s wellness tenets is to get grounded in grandma’s wisdom, which is to eat before sunset and sleep early. Research has also associated late dinners with disruptive sleep cycles and weight gain,” says Neeta Jain, CEO and founder of Her Shakti.

I know we are all set in our patterns and lifestyles. But it might be worth giving early dinners a shot now that many of us work remotely. Do it for your and your family’s health. Most of us do not eat when hungry, but when we think we are hungry. Aside from the health benefits of eating before 7pm, an early dinner also means you have more time to relax in the evenings.
While it takes a little bit of doing in the initial days, this practice is worth it.

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