There are a lot of things we can do beyond prayer and clean living for a long life. It might not seem that way but it is true. One of the first things on the list is to do our best to avoid diseases like heart problems, obesity, cancers and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, which are killing our people and overwhelming our healthcare systems.
At this point, we know that doing exercise regularly and reducing the amount of calories we consume go a long way in bringing down the risk of diseases. But not many people take care of these things efficiently.
Sometimes, physicians and specifically dieticians tell us how eating the right fruits and vegetables at specific times can help us reduce these health risks. Unfortunately, a lot of it is not implemented properly and that’s where the trouble is.
If you haven’t consulted an expert and wanted an overview of what you’ll be looking at, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a look.
What History And Evolution Teach Us
There are a lot of presumptions and misconceptions about the way we eat and the way it affects our overall health. One of them is that we need to consume at least three meals every day.
Well, that’s the first mistake we all make. It’s not so much how many times you eat but what you consume and when. There is a direct link between the content and timing of our meals to longevity of life.
Metabolism is heavily influenced by lifestyle and food factors. They have a direct impact on the disease trajectory that we are on in a lifetime. Studies are now finding that while it is hard to lay out generic rules in terms of the timing and frequency of our meals, there are certain helpful lessons to learn in this area.
The eating patterns of domesticated animals as well as modern humans have changed quite a bit from the time we were hunter-gatherers. We are supposed to do well when our bodies get energy intermittently. How does that work?
Back when we used to hunt for food, carnivores had access to prey only a few times during the week. They didn’t have that every day, and so anthropoids did not have the chance to eat more food than what was available to them. So, they did eat meat but only intermittently because that’s all there was to be had.
Now, when you have to function at high levels both mentally and physically, you can’t really go without food for a long period of time, right? Not quite. Hunters had the evolutionary ability to go without a lot of food for a long period of time.
Now, with the availability of more food, we have evolved but our body still has those mechanisms well-preserved. Tapping into them, especially for mammals, will do us a lot of good as research now shows.
Our organs have the ability to store and mobilize glucose very well. They can also prepare energy substrates like fatty acids and store them in the adipose tissue so that we have energy for a long time.
We really did evolve behaviorally such that we can adapt to the acquisition and storage of food in a better way depending on what’s available to us today. But these behavioral adaptations are not always necessary or even good.
It’s the same logic as, just because there’s food in the house doesn’t mean you should eat it all. Humans have cognitive abilities that are higher than other species and we have used them to acquire food sources in a better way. In fact, there is evidence to show that we improved both language skills and tools to better our choices of finding food.
With the onset of the agricultural revolution, things changed even more and we’ve had food availability throughout the year. Our ancestors did a terrific job of taking all that food and preparing a schedule where we eat three times a day.
Surely there were both practical and social benefits to that because we started working full time and the nature of our work changed too.
In the last 50 years, that schedule underwent more changes and the density of calories in our food also increased because we made our way to ingredients like grains, cooking oil, corn syrup, sugar and more. Obviously, all these ingredients feature heavily in all three meals of the day.
Now take a look at lifestyle changes. We have become more sedentary than our hunter-gatherer ancestors but the concept of high-energy meals stayed. And if you think about it, they might not be meals but a lot of us sure do eat more than three times a day.
This has led us down the path of health problems like obesity which have become major factors impacting our longevity. If you think about it, wild animals and hunter-gatherer humans never had problems like obesity because their diet was not as rich and frequent as ours.
And they also didn’t lead as sedentary a life as we do today. So, we might have shot ourselves in the foot with this concept of what we eat and how often. It’s not so black and white and not for everyone, but it is a major factor.
So, what should we eat and when is a good time? Let’s put a pin on the “what” and focus on the “when” because that doesn’t get discussed as often as it should.
The Impact Of Meal Timings, Circadian Rhythms And More
The circadian rhythm regulates how our endocrine systems work. The levels of ghrelin, insulin, cortisol and adiponectin are high in the morning and afternoon. Thyroid-stimulating hormones, melatonin, prolactin and growth hormones are elevated in the evening and night.
These hormones all play a role in synthesizing our endogenous clocks, which impact our food and sleep habits. and they, in turn, play a role in the clock that controls the aging process.
Now, the body's metabolism is controlled by the circadian rhythm irrespective of food and sleep habits. But the liver provides glucose to the body when you are not eating. That’s how you have enough energy all day long.
Over 10 percent of certain genes give organs the ability to align themselves to the circadian rhythm. This is how the metabolic pathways are determined. And that, in turn, is how our cellular processes and the overall fitness of the body is taken care of.
Meal Timing For Longevity: Parting Thoughts
Studies have shown that in certain pockets of the world where people are known to live comfortably in their 70s and 90s, eating early dinner around 7 pm was a huge factor. Of course, that’s not the only factor. They were also known to restrict their calorie intake to last them for about 17 and a half hours between dinner time and lunch the next day.
Their food also consisted of vegetables, fruits, cereals, eggs, not so much meat or processed meat and almost no sweets. And yes, they were all active till the very end. So, researchers came to the conclusion that restricting calories on a daily basis, not being stressed at night and consuming plant-based foods was how the people in Abruzzo, Italy managed to live a long life.