AHA statement recommends planning, timing meals to decrease cardiovascular disease risk

Busy schedules and work and family commitments make it difficult for people to plan meals and eat healthy. Hectic lifestyles, however, may contribute to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a new American Heart Association (AHA) scientific statement.

The researchers found that irregular eating patterns appeared to be less favorable to maintain body weight and optimal cardiometabolic health. They published the statement online Jan. 30 in Circulation.

“We suggest eating mindfully, by paying attention to planning both what you eat and when you eat meals and snacks, to combat emotional eating,” Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, the writing group chair from Columbia University, said in a news release. “Many people find that emotions can trigger eating episodes when they are not hungry, which often leads to eating too many calories from foods that have low nutritional value.”

The researchers cited data that showed 59 percent of men and 63 percent of women in 2009 to 2010 reported consuming breakfast, lunch and dinner, a decline from 73 percent and 75 percent, respectively, from 1971 to 1974. During that same period, 24-hour meal-derived total energy intake (TEI) decreased and the proportion of TEI consumed from snacks increased.

For this statement, the researchers searched electronic databases and references lists and consulted expert colleagues. They found that eating breakfast on a daily basis could decrease the risk of adverse effects related to glucose and insulin metabolism. They added that promoting daily breakfast consumption could help promote dietary habits throughout the day, although studies have shown approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of U.S. adults do not eat breakfast on a daily basis.

In addition, they said that fasting could be effective for weight loss, although studies have not shown whether fasting leads to sustained weight loss. They mentioned that randomized trials lasting a year or longer were needed to examine the affect of fasting on health outcomes.

Further, they noted there was not enough evidence to definitively decide the optimal meal timing and frequency. They also wrote that meal timing and frequency might depend as much on the amount of time between eating as the type and amounts of energy consumed. They mentioned, too, that eating speed could influence eating frequency.

The researchers recommended that future studies include racially/ethnically diverse samples because dietary intake, meal frequency and meal timing vary based on cultures. In addition, they said more research was needed to understand the dietary patterns of children, adolescents and older adults and how affect cardiovascular disease risk.

“Although more direct translational research is still needed, these data suggest that intervening on meal timing and frequency may be beneficial,” the researchers wrote. “By focusing on meal frequency and timing as an intervention target, patients may directly address poor dietary quality without the need to deal with calorie restriction to promote weight loss. Ultimately, the clinician’s goal may be to help the patient spread energy intake over a defined portion of the day in a more balanced way rather than limited to 1 segment of the day or continuously over long periods of time (ie, grazing). This does not mean that TEI and macronutrient balance can be ignored but simply that the frequency and timing of intake are the basis for building the structure for intentional eating.”