Sarah's Health Notes: Eat To Suit Your Body Clock

Sarah's Health Notes: Eat To Suit Your Body Clock

For many of us, lockdown and WFH have meant eating earlier in the evening. Now freedom beckons and with it eating later and probably heavier, which can put a load on digestion, leading to disturbed sleep and even a higher risk of type 2 diabetes/heart disease.

The idea of going out for an evening meal - chatting with chums over delicious food and a few drinks – is pretty exciting after a year of social isolation. There’s just one thorn in that rosy prospect for those of us who’ve become used to eating the grown up equivalent of nursery high tea – eating more and later.

One friend has already invited us to come round at 7 for supper at 7.30 so that ‘we can all be in bed by 10’. That’s perfect for my husband and I who usually eat about then and are off to bed as soon as we’ve seen the weather. But we also have an invitation to dear friends who, I know from past experience, are still dolloping out gooseberry fool at 11pm, coffee by midnight if you last that long… (I don't.)

Some people thrive on this – or at least don't lose sleep (like my husband). I toss and turn, my tummy’s uncomfortable and my brain is still on talk mode so I wake up with a sort of gut/brain hangover – all the more infuriating since I don't even drink alcohol.

Interestingly, disruptions to your body clock have been shown to increase the risk not just of a bad night’s sleep but ill health. New research from Italy shows that, if you’re overweight, being a night owl raises the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Research from the University of Naples Federico II found that middle-aged adults with a high Body Mass Index who woke up and stayed up late were six times more likely to have type 2 diabetes and had four times higher risk of heart disease. Morning exercise was a factor too, as was sticking to a Mediterranean Diet (or not, in both cases).

A night owl lifestyle – aka an ‘evening chronotype’ – alters metabolic processes (the chemical reactions in your cells that sustain life) and speeds up the glands that control stress, digestion, the immune system and other processes. A pile of studies confirms the link between eating later, often heavier meals and body fat.

As a rule of thumb, adjusting your lifestyle to suit your individual body clock may help sleep quality and all-round health. Thing is, while you can control the timing of meals in restaurants and in your home (friends loved my pre-lockdown ‘Work Night Kitchen Suppers – in at 7.30, out by 10pm puhlease!’ ), it’s not so easy with your night owl friends. One simple way out is to opt for lunch rather than an evening meal; if that’s not possible, here are a few tips:

Support your digestion with a digestive enzyme supplement before dinner, recommends pharmacist Shabir Daya. Try Life Extension Enhanced Super Digestive Enzymes, £23.25 for 60 capsules. Or sip a cup of pure ginger tea before you go out, Triple Leaf Tea Ginger Tea, £6 for 20-tea bags.

Eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and drink plenty of still water. Hydration is crucial for the movement of food through your system; many of us are dehydrated, says Shabir Daya. Fennel tea when you get back may help, in my experience.

After dinner, chew on Life Extension EsophaCool, £10 for 60 tablets. This calcium antacid tablet with licorice root extract and magnesium relieves symptoms of reflux and excess.

Next day, my go to drink is coconut water. It’s refreshing, hydrating and a good source of vitamin C and fibre plus several important minerals that replenish electrolytes. (Avoid brands with added sugar or flavourings.)

And now eat, drink and be very merry!