Dr John Briffa: Midnight munchers

My line of work inevitably brings me face-to-face with individuals who feel a fair proportion of their weight is surplus to requirements and are thoroughly fed up with living it large. I have known many would-be slimmers who, keen to force themselves into calorie deficit, are tempted to subsist on very slim pickings for breakfast and lunch. However, it is my experience that those who exercise dietary restraint during the daylight hours often find themselves succumbing to a super-sized supper in the evening, after which they may even make a few forays to the kitchen cupboards or fridge for a midnight feast.

I was interested to read a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition that explored this phenomenon. The one-week diet diaries of almost 800 men and women were examined. Their food and calorific intake were assessed for each of five four-hour periods from 6am to 2am the next day. The results showed that those who had the bulk of their food near the end of the day consumed, on average, significantly more calories than those who ate more substantial amounts of food early on.

This study did more than just give some scientific credence to the experience of so many who have employed starvation tactics to lose weight. It also helped to explain what the basis for the late-in-the-day overeating may be. In addition to assessing daily food intake, the researchers also calculated how effective each meal was at sating the appetite. The so-called 'satiety index' of each meal was calculated by dividing the number of calories it contained into the time that elapsed before another meal or snack was eaten.

Interestingly, compared to breakfast and lunch, food eaten in the evening was found to be significantly less likely to satisfy. This research provides support for the dietary dictum that it is best to breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and eat supper like a pauper.

Those wondering what to have for breakfast might do well to consider eggs. This protein-rich primal food, coupled with a little wholegrain bread, makes for a more nutritious and sustaining breakfast than carbohydrate-heavy ones based on cereal or toast. While eggs have been the subject of much negative press on account of their cholesterol content, studies show that their consumption has little or no relationship to our risk of heart disease. In fact, the consumption of eggs rich in omega-3 fats (now widely available in supermarkets) may well actually help to protect us from this most common killer of all. Boiled or poached is almost certainly the healthiest way to consume eggs. Pre-prepared hard-boiled eggs are good for those who are short of time in the morning. In addition, a snack of fresh fruit and/or unroasted nuts in the late morning will also help to front-load the day with food.

For those looking to shed pounds or maintain their weight through a healthy pattern of eating, my advice is not to leave it too late.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.