When you eat may be just as significant as what you eat, say researchers at Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

The study is published in the Cell Press journal Cell Metabolism. The researchers put two groups of mice on a high-fat diet – one group were restricted to eating for 8 hours per day, while the other group could eat around the clock.

The team found that although mice on the restricted eating schedule consumed the same amount of food as the other group of mice, they were protected against obesity and other metabolic illnesses.

According to the researchers, this finding indicates that the health consequences of a poor diet may be partially due to a mismatch between our eating schedules and our body clocks.

Lead researcher of the study Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies said “every organ has a clock.” Panda explains that each organ in the body, such as the liver, and intestines, will work at peak efficiency for only a certain amount of time during the day, and the rest of the time they are – more or less – sleeping.

These metabolic cycles are vital for various processes, including the breakdown of cholesterol and production of glucose, and should be advanced to ‘turn on’ during food consumption and ‘turn off’ during break times or vice versa. The normal metabolic cycles can be disrupted when mice or individuals regularly eat throughout the day and night.

Panda explained:

“When we eat randomly, those genes aren’t on completely or off completely.”

For example, individuals will work less efficiently during the day if they did not sleep well during the night.

The researchers found that mice on a time-restricted eating schedule suffered less liver damage, gained less weight, had reduced levels of inflammation, and showed improvements in their metabolic and physiological rhythms, in addition to other benefits.

In recent years our eating patterns have changed. According to Panda, this may be due to the fact that individuals have greater access to food and tend to stay up later at night.

Results from the study indicate that restricted meal times might help individuals keep off the pounds and should be given more consideration in the fight against obesity.

Panda said:

“The focus has been on what people eat. We don’t collect data on when people eat.”

Written By Grace Rattue