Timing of Food Can Affect Learning and Memory

Posted 02/09/2016 | By HealthCorps

A regular habit of eating at night may alter brain physiology, according to a new study in eLife.

When it comes to weight loss, eating your big meal at night may not necessarily nudge the numbers on the scale upward, if your meal is within your overall daily calorie count target. The problem is that many people tend to overeat at night or they simply have extra snacks or feedings at night. An occasional late night foray is not a big deal. The study suggests that if you eat late at night regularly, it can be a game-changer, impacting your cognition negatively.

Researchers from the Semel Institute in the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) decided to look at the cognitive effects of eating at inappropriate hours because late-night eating has already been implicated and linked to risk of pre-diabetes. That type of a regular pattern of eating may negatively impact your metabolic health as well.

Dawn Loh from the UCLA Laboratory of Circadian and Sleep Medicine found that poor timing of your meal on a regular basis has significant implications for learning and memory. Though the study was done with animals, the researchers point to the many studies that have been done on shift workers who work at night and sleep during the day. Those studies show that working, when you should normally be sleeping, negatively impacts cognition.

In this new study, mice regularly fed food during the hours of regular sleep time were less able to recall objects they were shown. Overall, long term memory in the mice was impaired and reduced when they underwent fear-conditioning experiments, after being on this altered feeding schedule.

The researchers looked to our modern schedules that can lead us to eat around-the-clock. Knowing that it may affect cognition and learning should act as a deterrent, and make us aim for better eating and sleep patterns when possible. It should also be a wakeup call to parents to set “end times” for the family meal in the evening – including post-dinner snacks. Parents also need to model this healthier eating behavior, since kids tend to want to do what their parents do, especially during the younger years.

Some other quick tips:

• Make sure a quality protein and some healthy fat is included in the dinner meal. This will help with satiation.
• Have a specific time for any night snacks and make sure it isn’t too close to bedtime.
• Make sure any night snacking has a calorie limit and don’t include sugary foods or drinks that contain caffeine.
• Make water and unsweetened decaffeinated or herbal teas (hot or cold) your post dinner beverages of choice.

Quick tip: Valentine’s Day is coming and dark chocolate is the way to go. Try our Dark Chocolate Dipped recipe for a decadent, healthy treat!

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Key Words to Help You Avoid Fattening or Unhealthy Foods

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