Is an earlier dinner healthier?

October 10, 2018 | by Alexander Hantel, M.D.

You may have had three healthy eating habits instilled as you were growing up: don’t forget to eat your fruits and veggies, don’t eat dessert before dinner and don’t overdo it on sugary foods. New research from scientists suggests it’s not just what you eat that’s important, it’s the timing of your meals before bedtime too.

In a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, scientists at the Barcelona Institute of Health discovered that eating dinner before 9 p.m., or leaving at least two hours between dinner and bedtime, can lower the risk of breast and prostate cancers by about 20 percent.

To determine the results, researchers examined sleep and eating habits and other cancer risk factors of participants with prostate and breast cancers, by asking questions about when they ate, their sleep habits, and whether they are a morning or evening person.

The researchers chose breast and prostate cancers in particular, because they’re known to be linked with night-shift work and circadian rhythm disruption, which influences tumor growth. They also looked at a control group of random healthy participants.

Because no two individuals have the same lifestyle, sleep cycle and eating habits, more research is needed to determine the reasons behind these findings.

Individuals who eat earlier may be more attuned to living healthier in ways that lower cancer risk. An earlier dinnertime may lead to better quality sleep, which has health protective qualities. Eating earlier may also help prevent weight gain and obesity, a known risk factor for cancer.

Though there is no ideal time to eat to prevent cancer, there are specific foods you can eat to keep your body healthy and prevent disease. Eating a variety of plant-based foods, such as deeply colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, can help reduce your cancer risk.

To follow an anti-cancer diet, fill your shopping cart with:

  • Vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, tomatoes, beats, carrots, and garlic
  • Fruits – all types of berries (raspberries, blueberries, cherries), papaya, peaches, mango, apricots and grapefruit
  • Whole grains – brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat pasta and barley
  • Lean protein – eggs, salmon, turkey, lean beef and chicken, soy, beans, peas, lentils, nuts (walnuts) and seeds
  • Water – eight glasses a day. To switch it up, try green tea.
  • Healthy fats and oils – fish oil, olive oil and flax oil. Avoid saturated fats and processed meats.

The ideal dinner time can vary between each individual. While a few late dinners too close to bedtime may not hurt, an earlier dinner, if anything, might allow more time to de-stress and get to bed earlier, which is good for your health.

Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about a healthy meal plan that’s right for you.

Learn more about the cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blogs:

How to do your part to not get cancer

Does extra weight increase my risk for cancer?

What does an anti-cancer diet look like?


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