• People who eat less after 18:00 tend to eat fewer calories throughout the day, according to new research presented at the 2020 European and International Obesity Congress.
  • Researchers also found that later calorie consumption was linked to poorer food choices and more alcohol. 
  • It's not clear from this study how eating times affect weight and health, but more research could potentially help people use meal timing to moderate calories and nutrients. 
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There's even more research that it's not just what we eat but when we eat that makes a different to our overall health and wellbeing. 

Eating more in the evening, rather than during the day, has been linked to consuming more calories overall, and less nutritious food, according to new research presented at the 2020 European and International Obesity Congress.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland looked at data from 1,200 adults in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey from 2012 to 2017, which included detailed food diaries.

They found that, on average, everyone surveyed got about 40% of their daily calories after 6 pm, though individual habits varied greatly. 

But the researchers found that those who did eat a higher proportion of their total calories in the evening were more likely to consume more calories over the course of the whole day. Evening eaters were also likely to have a poorer-quality diet, eating more junk food, fatty foods, alcohol, and fewer nutrient-rich foods.

Interestingly, late-night eaters actually consumed fewer carbohydrates and sugar than people who ate more during the day. However, that wasn't enough to outweigh the extra calories they consumed, nutritionally speaking. 

This research supports existing studies finding that when we eat makes a difference for overall health, and helps answer the question of how that might work.

"The timing of eating has been shown to influence metabolic and physiological processes, with irregular eating patterns, such as eating late at night, associated with an increased risk of obesity," Judith Baird, PhD researcher at Ulster University and co-author of the study, said in an online presentation. "However, less is known about how the timing of eating influences food choices and overall diet quality." 

These results are promising evidence that nutritionists may be able to help people improve their diets just by shifting when they eat. 

"Timing of energy intake may be an important modifiable behavior to consider in future nutritional interventions, not only because it may help to decrease overall energy intake, but also it could also have an intake on food choice," she said. 

Future research should further explore how this works, including how feelings of hunger and fullness may change throughout the day based on eating habits, Baird added. 

Read more:

Eating a big breakfast may be linked to burning more calories during the day

Intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, even if you have a longer 'eating window' of 6 hours a day

How to eat healthily even during stressful times, according to nutritionists

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