Are late dinners bad for you?

I came across an article that claimed late dinners are terrible for your health. We quite often don’t eat till 8pm, and I was wondering what the truth is in this. Is an 8pm dinner actually a late dinner in the first place? So I had a look around. And again – there are just as many websites claiming one as the other! And of course plenty of sensationalist newspaper headlines…

Weight Gain
Yes your body slows down in burning calories when you sleep, but it’s not the amount of calories you eat before bed that make you put on weight but the total amount eaten throughout the day. It doesn’t matter when you eat a tray of donuts – if you don’t need the calories, your body is likely to store them as fat. The time of day you eat any number of calories does not affect the rate at which they are metabolised by your body. Your weight variation is determined by the simple equation, number of calories you consume minus the number of calories you burn. The time of day you consume the calories has nothing to do with the equation.

Wait 3 hours
If you are a night owl (and the affect on health for this one is a totally different thing to look at), then eating late is something you probably need to do. We need to eat every 4 to 5 hours for a healthy metabolism. So if you are eating at 5pm and are still up at 1am – of course you are going to be hungry. So eat! The important thing is to wait 3 hours before going to bed. This gives your body time to start digesting the food you have eaten. Most of those sensational headlines that claim all sorts of terrible things will happen to you because of a late night dinner stem from not having enough time between eating and sleeping. There are links between late eating and heart disease, cholesterol, blood pressure and acid reflux – but that is because dinner didn’t start to digest before you went to sleep. So make sure you have a 3 hour window before going to bed. Our 8pm dinner isn’t that bad after all because I never get to bed before 11pm. So if you are a night owl and stay up way past your dinner, then you might need a snack. But make it a handful of nuts, a bit of cheese or an apple. Then wait an hour before going to bed to help your body with digestion.

What to eat
There certainly is no need to put a large amount of energy into your body before you go to sleep. So dieticians advise to have a low carb dinner, use whole grain carbs and pair them with protein and fat. There are plenty of countries where lunch is the main meal of the day – like Spain and Germany. But in the UK it is very common for dinner to be the main meal. I’ve managed to adjust, but I’m still not sure which one is better. Lunch as the main meal seems impractical in this country, but it could simply be a shift in habits that can make this possible. A thought for another time…

Conclusion
Dieticians agree – actually it’s not the time you eat your dinner that is important but at what time you go to bed afterwards and how many calories you consume throughout the day. Phew! That’s our 8pm dinners saved!

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