Research now shows that what you eat may not be the only important dietary factor when it comes to your health. The quantity of calories you eat is also important, as well as the timing.
This new research is presented in a paper entitled, “Meal Frequency And Timing In Health And Disease” that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.
The paper is a culmination of data taken from over 80 scientific papers that span the interconnections between oncology, neuroscience, and biology with their relationship to human health, food quantities, and meal timings.
The paper was authored by experts from Harvard Medical School, the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Center at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, England, and the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore.
Co-author of the paper, Dr. Michelle Harvie, research dietitian at Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Center said, “There are many myths and assumptions concerning diet and eating patterns, including the belief that a healthy lifestyle should involve three square meals, plus snacks, every day.”
Harvie adds, “However, this common eating pattern is, in fact, abnormal from an evolutionary perspective. Emerging studies suggest that intermittent periods of energy restriction can, in fact, improve health and even counteract disease processes, such as the development of breast cancer.”
Researchers of the paper suggest that three square meals a day plus snacks is a product of industrialization and technological advances, such as lighting, and is actually at odds with the natural rhythms of the human body.
Their research took into account a range of scientific data on limited calorie intake effects on the human body. Their findings led researchers to conclude that patients should instead try an “intermittent energy restriction” (IER) diet.
This 5:2 diet would involve patients consuming their normal dietary intake for five days, but then restricted themselves to eating only 500 calories for the two subsequent days.
The researchers explain that this type of eating pattern would be more consistent with the traditional diet of “hunter-gatherer humans [who] rarely, if ever, suffer from obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
As the authors wrote, “For many of our ancestors, food was scarce and primarily consumed during daylight hours, leaving long hours of overnight fasting.”
They added, “With the advent of affordable artificial lighting and industrialization, modern humans began to experience prolonged hours of illumination every day and resultant extended consumption of food.”
As they explain, the disruption of the normal circadian rhythms of the human body has caused humans to eat more than they would otherwise, and this has opened the door to diseases like obesity.
Intermittent eating may hold answers
The authors conclude that fasting or the IER diet assists the body in breaking down fat, repairing body cells, reversing some of the effects of the aging process, shrinking cancer tumors, and protecting neurons from damage by neurodegenerative disorders.
“As more research is done into the relationship between meal frequency and health, it’s important that these eating patterns are incorporated into standard health care policies and that the general population knows how to adapt their diets and lifestyles appropriately.”