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For years, we have been told that our health hinges on what we eat. And we know this to be true, what we eat matters. Diets high in saturated fats, sugar, and unhealthy carbs will lead to poor health. On the flip side, diets that are rich in natural proteins, carbs, and fats will benefit our health. Now, another important thing to focus on is prioritizing when we eat, just as much as what we eat, Healthline’s Dr. Cecilia Snyder reports.

When We Eat

Life is busy, and not everyone has time for the 10 a.m. breakfast window. Some of us eat when our schedules allow it, or when our hunger levels reach a breaking point. What matters is we do eat every day. But it also matters when we eat, as our bodies digest foods differently at different times, according to Dr. Snyder.

Our bodies rely heavily on our circadian rhythms, also known as our sleep-wake cycles, to function properly and feel either active or sleepy. The hormones in our brains are affected by our environments, for instance, getting sleepy when it is dark outside. Other factors like stress, temperature, and our metabolism play a role in impacting our circadian rhythm.

Our digestion reacts similarly and will function slower when we feel tired. Our circadian rhythms can also be affected by our digestion, giving the two a dynamic and interactive relationship. It’s that sleepy feeling we get when we just had a big meal, or that burst of energy we can receive after an early breakfast.

Disruptions to our circadian rhythms, or disruptions to our sleep cycles, can make it harder to digest and more difficult for our metabolisms to function properly. This may be due to an overwhelming sense of fatigue or stress, or changes to our schedules that force us to eat at odd hours.

When to Eat

There is no specific hour on the clock that makes for the optimal mealtime. What matters most is the length of time between meals. Breakfast quite literally means to break your nighttime fast, and it is considered the most important meal of the day. This is because proper nutrition requires balance. If we skip breakfast, our bodies go longer without fuel, and we risk over consuming calories when we do finally eat.

Additionally, eating more in the morning gives us more energy to burn off throughout the day, and we have less of a need to over consume. When it comes to lunch and dinner, the research quoted by Dr. Snyder suggests that it is better to eat earlier, or at least not right before we start our sleep cycle.

Mealtimes can also fluctuate due to workouts. The more intense the workout, the more important the meal timing. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to eat 2 hours before and 2 hours after a workout for optimal energy and recovery.

When we eat is important for our health. Make sure to eat healthy, regularly, and enjoy the benefits of good health.

For more retirement health tips, make sure to follow the Council for Retirement Security.