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Does it matter when you eat? A new study says it does, but …



If you enjoy chomping down a hearty breakfast each morning, you’ll be glad to know that a new book says it’s not just OK, it’s good for your health.

“The Circadian Code” by Dr. Satchin Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute in San Diego, makes a strong case for aligning our meals with our sleep-wake cycles known as circadian rhythms.

Nutrition authorities have debated for decades about how much the time of day matters when we eat. Many agree with Panda that our metabolism works most efficiently when we finish the day’s eating in the early evening and avoid late meals and snacks.

They say the body’s hormones, enzymes and digestive system burn calories and process food more efficiently during daylight hours. Proponents also say people who eat heavily at night, when the brain begins to release melatonin to prepare for sleep, put a strain on the organs involved in digestion that are programmed to be less active in the late evening.

Others say a calorie is a calorie, and the hour you consume it makes little, if any difference.

Dr. Ryan Frazine, who practices internal medicine in Paducah and is certified in obesity medicine, has read widely about time of eating studies. While he believes there is evidence to support being more timeconscious, he cautions that some claims have yet to be proven.

“For most people, and especially those trying to lose weight, the quantity and types of food being eaten are bigger issues than timing,” he said. “But I do encourage patients to eat a protein-rich breakfast and to not take in a lot of calories after dinner.”

He also noted that studies have found that late shift workers have more health problems, which lends credence to the view that aligning eating patterns with our biological rhythms can bring benefit.

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Early eating advocates like to quote this adage: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.

That message came from Adele Davis, the most popular nutritionist in the U.S. in the mid-20th century who said almost any disease could be prevented by proper eating habits.

While Davis had many admirers, she also had critics who said her conclusions too often came from anecdotal evidence rather than research. A 1969 White House Conference on Food and Nutrition called her a harmful source of false nutritional information.

She once suggested Germany overpowered France in World War II in part because German black bread and beer were nutritionally superior to French white bread and wine.

Davis said she never saw anyone get cancer who drank a quart of milk a day, as she did.

Milk, however, isn’t quite that protective. In 1974, Davis died at the age of 70 of bone cancer.

Steve Wilson is a columnist for the Paducah Sun in Paducah, Ky.

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