“Timing is everything,” as the saying goes. And the timing of your daily meals and snacks can have a big impact on your blood sugars, your weight, and even your risk of heart disease. In 2017, the American Heart Association noted that meal and snack patterns among American adults have changed significantly in the past 40 years. Rather than the traditional three meals a day, adults today tend to eat around the clock. This “non-stop” eating can have major health implications, especially if you have diabetes.
Meet your blood sugar and A1C targets
If you struggle with keeping your blood sugars within your target range, take a look at your meals. Sure, the amount of carbohydrate that you eat plays a key role in your blood sugar management, but the timing of your meals and snacks is also a big part of it. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Space your meals out: aim to eat every 4 to 5 hours.
- Eat your meals at about the same times each day.
- Avoid skipping meals; if you must miss a meal, try to eat a snack at your usual meal time.
- Understand how your diabetes medicines work, and know when to take them.
As an example, while not everyone who has diabetes needs to eat snacks, a strategically-planned bedtime snack with about 15-30 grams of carbohydrate can signal the liver to turn off its release of glucose. End result? Lower blood glucose levels the next morning.
Drop some pounds
We all know that portion control and limiting high-calorie foods can help you lose weight, but don’t overlook the importance of meal timing. Skipping meals and eating late at night can make it difficult to lose weight and might even lead to weight gain. Studies show that consistent meal times help regulate hormones that control appetite and hunger, which makes it easier for you to stick with a healthy eating plan. In addition, when you’re able to keep your blood sugar levels more even, you might find that you’re less hungry. Try the following:
- Make a point to eat something within 2 hours of waking up.
- Aim to eat your larger meal earlier in the day, such as at noontime, and make your evening meal the smaller meal of the day.
- Go easy on middle-of-the-night snacking, especially if you tend to eat because you’re bored or can’t sleep. Nibble on low-carb veggies, or sip on a cup of herbal tea.
Keep your heart ticking
Getting your diabetes “numbers” – A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol – in a safe range is essential for lowering your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease. An eating plan that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and vegetables oils is one way to meet your targets, as is getting regular physical activity and taking medication, if needed. What else can help?
- Watching out for that night-time eating that can raise blood sugars, cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats). If you need a snack, control your portions and aim for lower-calorie, lower-carb choices. Raw veggies, hard-boiled eggs, plain Greek yogurt, or a handful of unsalted nuts are good choices.
- Eat the majority of your calories earlier in the day, and turn dinner into your smaller meal.
- Some evidence suggests that eating breakfast can benefit your lipid levels, so how about starting your day with a slice of avocado toast and a hard-boiled egg? Or a bowl of chia pudding with a sprinkling of chopped almonds and raspberries?
If you need help with meal planning or figuring out the best times to eat your meals and snacks, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian.