Eating irregular meals can lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, according to new research.
The findings were made in a review of previous studies on different meal patterns.
The review was carried out by researchers from King’s College London, Newcastle University, the University of Surrey and the Nestlé Research Centre and the two papers were published in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.
Researchers say eating at different times could affect the internal body clock – otherwise known as ‘circadian rhythms’, which typically follows a 24-hour cycle. The central clock is regulated by the dark and light cycle which can also affect food intake.
Studies have suggested that shift workers are at a greater risk of a series of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome which is closely linked with type 2 diabetes.
More than 80 per cent of people in central Europe are thought to be affected by social jetlag, which occurs when people are guided by their social clocks rather than their internal body clocks.
Evidence suggests there is a link between how regularly people eat and what they choose to eat.
Some diets have suggested that eating small and frequent meals could help control appetite and weight, however, some studies indicate there is a link between obesity and increasing daily meal consumption.
Eating patterns vary across the world with the focus being on the lunchtime meal in the Mediterranean region and in France.
It is also thought that who people choose to eat with, may have an effect on health which is supported in French households where traditionally they eat together and follow a regular three-meal-a-day pattern.
In England however, choice and convenience dictates food and dietary decisions, which seems to encourage greater consumption of junk foods and more meal skipping.
Further research indicates an importance of evening-to-morning energy intake, with evening food intake possibly affecting body mass index (BMI) in a different way, depending on whether people eat breakfast regularly or not.
The authors argue that people should consume fewer meals per day, but if a reduced calorie intake is not considered, fewer meals are unlikely to help introduce major health benefits.
Dr Gerda Pot, visiting lecturer in the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London said: “There seems to be some truth in the saying ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’, however, this warrants further investigation.”
They are calling on more research to be carried out in order to further investigate the impact of chrono-Nutrition, which involves studying nutrition and how it affects the metabolic processes on public health.
The findings might suggest changes need to be made to national dietary guidelines which have always focused on what should be eaten, instead of when.
Dr Gerda Pot said: “Whilst we have a much better understanding today of what we should be eating, we are still left with the question as to which meal should provide us with the most energy.
“Although the evidence suggests that eating more calories later in the evening is associated with obesity, we are still far from understanding whether our energy intake should be distributed equally across the day or whether breakfast should contribute the greatest proportion of energy, followed by lunch and dinner.”

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