How Late-Night Snacking Is Impacting Your Heart

Through the years there has been much speculation regarding what time of the day you should stop eating. From followers of intermittent fasting (IF) to those who state that eating before bed will add more fat to the body, strong opinions have been prevalent, but actual information on late-night snacking has never really been concrete. There are some experts who believe a calorie is a calorie, no matter the time of day eaten, and some who believe that the timing of a meal can affect your weight and health (via WebMD). 

There are some studies that suggest late-night snacking can lead to calories being stored as fat rather than burned as energy (via Washington Post). However, Kelly Allison of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine's Center for Weight and Eating Disorders tells the Washington Post that there hasn't been enough thorough research to conclude whether or not it's the time of day or type of food consumed that is the real culprit. 

The link between midnight snacks and heart health

In 2017, the American Heart Association submitted a review of their takeaway from studies previously published on meal timing and frequency, which stated, "Allocating more calories earlier in the day might help reduce cardiovascular disease risk." 

The paper explained that some studies found a link between meal timing and weight gain, as well as meal timing and an increased risk of heart disease. But the paper's authors also wrote in the summary that, "The impact of meal timing, particularly related to the evening meal, deserves further study." It was also said that some of those studies showing a correlation between evening eating and heart disease have "major limitations." 

However, the BBC also reports that many studies have connected late-in-the-day or unstable meal schedules to an increase in weight and adverse medical conditions. For example, a UK national survey that followed 5,000 people over 70 years found that participants with unstable meal patterns, regardless of caloric intake, were more susceptible to health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol levels.

There is no disputing this correlation

According to Scientific American, while our bodies naturally have circadian (sleep/wake) cycles that affect major functions in the body, such as the digestive and hormonal systems, there is still not enough evidence supporting that late-night eating puts us at more of a risk for developing medical conditions. But there is one theory that there is no disputing, which is that obesity is a contributing cause of heart disease. And whether you eat late at night or early on, too many of the wrong foods can lead to weight gain, and that increases your risk of heart disease (via Penn Medicine). So, ultimately, the most important factor might be a well-balanced diet of consistently scheduled meals.  According to the authors of the study Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association, having routine and purposeful healthy eating patterns can support healthy weight and heart health (via American Heart Association).