January 17, 2019
2 min read

Meal timing may affect cholesterol levels

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LDL cholesterol levels can be lowered by eating less at night and shifting late-evening fat intake to earlier in the day, according to findings published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases.

“The timing of eating and nutrient intake and its effect on cardiovascular health has drawn attention in nutrition research,” Hsin-Jen Chen, MS, PhD, an associate professor of public health at National Yang-Ming University in Taipei, Taiwan, and colleagues wrote. “Meal frequency, timing of feeding and regularity of meal times are associated with obesity, blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risks. Elevated blood LDL cholesterol, as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, has been associated with temporal patterns of eating as well.”

Chen and colleagues used data from the Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan for analysis. A total of 1,283 participants (44.4% women) aged at least 19 years were included. Food intake was assessed with a 24-hour dietary recall and converted to calories from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The dietary recall also asked participants to note meal times. This yielded six time periods, with main meals eaten in the morning (5 a.m. to 9:29 a.m.), at noon (11:30 a.m. to 1:39 p.m.) and in the evening (5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.). An additional three time periods for snacking were included: mid-morning (9:30 a.m. to 11:29 a.m.), afternoon (1:30 p.m. to 5:29 p.m.) and night (8:30 p.m. to 4:59 a.m.).

After the dietary assessment, participants returned 1 to 3 weeks later for a physical examination in which fasting plasma triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were measured.

Mean energy intake in the cohort was 385 kcal in the morning (95% CI, 353-416), 123 kcal in the mid-morning (95% CI, 106-140), 522 kcal at noon (95% CI, 483-561), 171 kcal in the afternoon (95% CI, 141-200), 557 kcal in the evening (95% CI, 516-597) and 169 kcal at night (95% CI, 139-200).

The researchers found that LDL cholesterol levels rose an average of 0.94 mg/dL (95% CI, 0.27-1.61) when participants ate 100 kcal more at night. In addition, LDL cholesterol was increased by 2.98 mg/dL (95% CI, 0.89-5.07) when participants ate an additional 100 kcal of fat at night.

Shifting 100 kcal of total energy intake that would have been eaten at night to the morning or noon lowered LDL cholesterol by 1.46 mg/dL (95% CI, –2.42 to –0.5) and 1.27 mg/dL (95% CI, –2.24 to –0.3), respectively. Displacing 100 kcal of fat intake at night to noon or the evening decreased LDL cholesterol levels by 5.21 mg/dL (95% CI, –7.42 to –2.99) and 3.19 mg/dL (95% CI, –6.29 to –0.08), respectively.

“Cholesterol metabolic processes, including intestinal cholesterol uptake, cholesterol synthesis and cholesterol utilization by certain tissues, vary with time of the day,” the researchers wrote. “These temporal patterns of cholesterol-related metabolism indicate that healthy people’s cholesterol metabolic systems tend to produce cholesterol at night, which builds up total cholesterol levels. When the exogenous input via food intake is shifted to a later time, the food, especially fats, provides precursors for the machinery when it is most efficient and elevates the cholesterol pool.” – by Phil Neuffer

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.