The early bird may get the worm, but does the same logic apply to eating dinner early?
There are people who don’t eat after 7 p.m. and there are those who regularly dine well into the evening. But which group is right? Well, as it turns out, neither. According to Kayla Kopp, a registered dietician at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition, there is no ideal time to eat your last meal of the day. Additionally, what’s more important is what you’re eating versus when you eat it.
“The clock does not determine how our bodies utilize or store food,” says Kopp. “There is no research that indicates it is healthier to consume an early dinner compared to a dinner later at night. Whether you are trying to gain or lose weight, it really matters how many calories you are consuming, not necessarily the timing of these calories.”
When to eat dinner
A good rule of thumb, Kopp suggests, is not to go more than three to four hours without eating. For example, if you eat lunch around noon, it would be a good idea to have a snack around 3 p.m. and dinner between 6 and 7 p.m.
If, however, you are prone to acid reflux or heartburn after eating, then you may benefit from an earlier dinnertime. People with type 2 diabetes may also benefit from an earlier dinnertime as later dinners can lead to diabetic complications, according to one study. Late-night eating can also cause increased fat storage, which could lead to higher risk of obesity.
Generally speaking, experts advise waiting three to four hours after a meal before going to sleep.
“Your circadian rhythm does play a large role when it comes to hunger cues,” explains Kopp. Because of this, it is best to try to consume breakfast, lunch and dinner on a consistent, regular basis every day without skipping meals.”
Keeping a regular sleep and eating schedule is essential to a healthy lifestyle.
“Quality sleep is the foundation on which optimal health is built. Even if nutrition and exercise are at their best, without proper sleep their benefits are greatly reduced,” Dr. Abhinav Singh, medical director, Indiana Sleep Center, expert at SleepFoundation.org, and coauthor of Sleep to Heal: 7 Simple Steps to Better Sleep, previously told Fortune. “Sleep is important for metabolic health, immune health, muscle repair, optimal brain function, and mental health. Optimal sleep not only adds years to your life, but life to your years.”
What to eat for dinner
To ensure you’re eating a well-balanced meal, Kopp suggests using the “healthy plate method,” which consists of the following:
- Half of your plate has non-starchy vegetables
- One-fourth of your plate contains a whole grain/starchy vegetable
- One-fourth of your plate contains a palm-size serving of lean protein
“One example may look like this: a half plate of spring mixed salad with one tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette, one cup of brown rice, and four ounces of grilled chicken,” says Kopp. “For dessert, try including a serving of fruit like one cup of mixed berries or a small orange.”