The Best Time Of Day To Eat Junk Food (Without Jeopardizing Your Diet)

Resisting the temptation of junk food can be a tough challenge for many of us trying to maintain a healthy diet. We all know how hard it can be to say no to a sugary treat or a bag of chips. But did you know that recent research has found a connection between timing and how our body metabolizes the various components of junk food?

According to a study published in Current Biology in 2018, the time of day that you consume junk food can impact how your body metabolizes carbohydrates and fats. The study found that the amount of energy our bodies burn at rest, known as resting energy expenditure (REE), was lowest in the early morning hours and highest in the late afternoon and early evening hours. This suggests that the body is more efficient at burning carbohydrates in the morning and fats in the evening.

Although it's still a developing field, exploring the effect of meal timing on junk food consumption could benefit people who want to indulge in their favorite treats without compromising their healthy diet.

Leveraging circadian rhythms for smart junk food choices

The body's internal clock, its circadian rhythm, influences metabolism and can guide decisions on when to indulge in junk food without compromising diet goals. Beyond the general principles of carbohydrate and fat metabolism, circadian rhythms affect various hormones and enzymes responsible for nutrient processing. For instance, insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels, follows a diurnal pattern with increased sensitivity in the morning. So, if you eat sugary or starchy junk foods in the morning, your body might better utilize the energy provided. According to a study published in Biology in 2017, insulin sensitivity is higher in the morning, which means consuming sugary or starchy foods during breakfast time might lead to less of a spike in blood sugar levels compared to consuming them later in the day.

On the other hand, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2018 shows that the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, is regulated by our circadian system. It peaks in the evening and reaches its lowest point in the morning. Sneaking a snack with some fat later in the day could help you feel more satisfied and less likely to go for seconds. Understanding these intricate connections between the circadian rhythm, hormones, and metabolism can provide valuable insights for individuals seeking to enjoy their favorite treats while maintaining a healthy diet. 

The role of nutrients in junk food consumption

The impact of junk food on our body's metabolism is dependent not only on timing but also on the nutrient composition of the food. For example, many junk foods have a lot of carbohydrates, especially sugars and starches, which can cause your blood sugar levels to rapidly spike and then crash. This can affect insulin secretion and potentially lead to weight gain and other metabolic issues. Complex carbohydrates, like those in whole grains, give you a steady flow of energy and keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day (per American Heart Association). Eating complex carbs in the morning is especially beneficial as your body's carbohydrate metabolism is at its peak.

Proteins in junk food also play a role in the metabolic puzzle. Sneaking in high-protein snacks like nuts or chicken wings could help you feel fuller for longer. This can help you manage your calorie intake and stay on track with your healthy eating goals. 

By paying attention to when and what types of nutrients you consume while indulging in your favorite junk food, you can take a more well-rounded approach to enjoying occasional treats while still maintaining a balanced diet.