Eating a late dinner turns out to impact your digestion – here’s how
Whether you’re coming home late from work or hanging out at a restaurant with friends talking and laughing over your favorite foods, eating late is often a part of life. Juggling schedules, meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking can get messy. Late dinners are also a cherished tradition in some cultures. Yet, there is a lot of talk about the “right” time to eat. Have you ever wondered if it was reckless to have a late dinner? If so, you are not alone. Below, experts explain how eating a late dinner affects digestion. Consensus ? It can impact your digestion and metabolic processes, but a late dinner is better than no dinner.
According to a 2020 article published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the time between your dinner and your bedtime is what matters when it comes to a late dinner. Another 2020 study from the same journal found that when participants went to bed just after a late average, they were more likely to show results of altered plasma cortisol levels, increased glucose intolerance, and changes in fat utilization. However, the researchers mentioned that factors such as gender, disability, race, socioeconomic status, and fitness level need to be studied more closely to better understand how late dinners affect health.
Eating a late dinner just before bed is also not ideal for a good night’s sleep. Eating forces us to use many metabolic processes and energy to aid digestion, says Shilpi Agarwal, MD, Board of Directors-Certified Family Physician and COVID-19 Frontline Responder at Georgetown University Hospital. Eating late and going to bed right after can contribute to heartburn and indigestion. It can also slow down your metabolism or impair your body’s ability to turn food into energy and use fatty acids.
That doesn’t mean you have to go to bed hungry, though, because that’s not ideal for your body either, says Tiana Glover, RD, dietician specializing in binge eating disorder and founder of Taste with Tia. . When asked whether it is better to eat dinner late or not at all, all experts confirm that eating is more important. “If you skip dinner, you’ll find that your body wants to make up for lost calories the next day. This could potentially lead to stronger food cravings and even binge eating,” says Glover, adding that your body needs nutrients like protein, fat, fiber and sugar throughout the day. Eating a late dinner here and there can disrupt your sleep or impair certain bodily processes, but a late dinner is far better than no dinner.
Glover adds that sometimes diet culture can make people believe in strict rules like “you should never eat after 7 p.m.” The truth is, there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to eating. Many factors contribute to your eating schedule, and things like socializing, finances, work, shopping, cooking, and babysitting all impact how you eat. Balance is an important aspect of navigating a food schedule, says Glover.
If you’re wondering what to prioritize or avoid when it comes to a late dinner, Dr. Agarwal recommends that a meal high in fiber and lean protein is generally better than a meal high in sugar, in alcohol, carbohydrates or fats. This is because your body digests differently at night, which can potentially lead to changes in insulin function and fat storage over time. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any of these things, says Glover. Enjoying your favorite food is also an important part of a balanced diet.
Digestion is complex, but your body will digest your food whether you eat it at 6 p.m. or 10 p.m., says Glover. So should you cook your dinner the next time you go out with friends? Absolutely not, says Glover. Enjoying food in different environments is an important part of your health and well-being. On the contrary, it could be a good excuse to stay up a little later after your late night dinner.
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