Looks like all those early bird diners have the right idea...
According to a recent study out of Barcelona, folks who eat an "early" dinner had a lower risk of breast and prostate cancer. Early, in this study, meant before 9 p.m.
Now, in the U.S., many folks might scoff at this study. That's because Americans already eat much earlier than Europeans, with the average evening meal time at 6 p.m. instead of about 8 p.m. or later (in Spain, it's closer to 10 p.m.).
But here's what the headlines aren't emphasizing... Both an early dinner time and not eating two hours before bed resulted in the same reduction.
So it's not just about eating dinner early – it's making sure you stay awake for at least two hours afterward. What's more, make dinner the last food you consume – no snacks before bed.
The study looked at about 4,000 participants throughout Spain. Researchers interviewed them about things like eating habits, meal times, sleep patterns, and something called a chronotype. Your chronotype refers to whether you're a morning or an evening person – in other words, when you do most of your activity.
Those who ate before 9 p.m. or ate at least two hours before bed had the lowest risk of both breast and prostate cancers... 20% lower than those who didn't follow these eating habits.
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This certainly doesn't surprise us. Longtime readers will recognize this as one of our standing tips for better sleep.
Eating close to bedtime causes weight gain and disrupts your sleep cycle. Digestive sugar spikes and the production of stomach acid can also wake you from your sleep. And although it acts as a depressant at first, alcohol causes bouts of wakefulness as your body metabolizes it. It's a good rule to stop eating about two hours before bed. A simple change in your routine like this will improve the quality of your sleep right away.
Other research looks at similar studies linking shift workers with increased risks of cancer. The underlying role here: hormones. More specifically, messing with your circadian rhythm throws off your hormone production. And that, in turn, contributes to hormone-specific cancers like those of the breast and prostate.
Your circadian rhythm is the body's natural 24-hour cycle. Everything from hormone release to body temperature and your sleep-wake cycle rely on your body's "clock."
We already know that disrupting your clock leads to things like weight gain and insulin resistance, both of which are precursors to type 2 diabetes.
So be sure to add this to your list of healthy eating habits: Stop eating two hours before bed.
And while you're at it, slow down. Americans eat the fastest out of a group of 34 mostly Western countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). U.S. residents spend an average of only 30 minutes on meal prep per day, compared to an average of two hours and eight minutes. And our time spent eating is about a half hour less than the average, at an hour and 14 minutes per day. That's just 24 minutes for each of the three regular meals we're supposed to "enjoy" every day.
What's more, even though we spend such short times for meal prep and eating, we have a more than 30% obesity rate. That's nearly double the average for the OECD countries.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the power of slowing down and mindful eating. That's because of a Japanese study that found folks who reported eating slowly (instead of moderately or quickly) had a 42% lower risk of obesity in a five-year period.
It makes sense... Taking your time to eat allows you to produce the hormones needed to trigger the feeling of fullness before you overeat. It takes about 20 minutes for all the chemicals in your stomach to tell your brain you are at full satiety. So, meals should last at least 20 minutes.
Now, there's no good measure for timing a meal to see if you're eating slowly or quickly. But a good trick is to pay attention to your chewing.
Chewing mindfully means taking your time. Try setting down your utensils in between bites and paying attention to how you feel and how the meal tastes. And take breaks between bites. A good conversation or a beverage will help – I love to have wine with my dinners out with friends. Just be sure to wrap it up at least two hours before your bedtime.
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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 26, 2018