Early bird special! Eating breakfast before 8 a.m. may prevent Type 2 diabetes

BARCELONA, Spain — There’s an old saying that the early bird gets the worm, but new research out of Spain suggests early risers may also avoid Type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health report eating breakfast after 9 a.m. increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 59 percent in comparison to others eating breakfast before 8 a.m.

These findings, coming from an analysis of over 100,000 participants in a French study group, suggest that we can indeed alter our individual risk of diabetes not only by changing what we eat, but also when we eat it. Type 2 diabetes is already linked to a number of modifiable risk factors including an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and smoking.

“We know that meal timing plays a key role in regulating circadian rhythms and glucose and lipid control, but few studies have investigated the relationship between meal timing or fasting and Type 2 diabetes,” says Anna Palomar-Cros, an ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study, in a media release.

More specifically, the research team collaborated with scientists from INSERM in France to investigate the association between meal frequency and timing and Type 2 diabetes incidence among 103,312 adults (79% women) from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort. Participants completed online dietary records covering what they ate and drank over a 24-hour period on three non-consecutive days — as well as the timing of those meals. Study authors averaged the dietary records for the first two years of follow-up, then assessed each person’s health over the following years (average of 7 years).

In all, 963 new cases of Type 2 diabetes were diagnosed during this project. The observed risk of developing Type 2 diabetes appeared significantly higher among those regularly eating breakfast after 9 a.m.

“Biologically, this makes sense, as skipping breakfast is known to affect glucose and lipid control, as well as insulin levels,” Palomar-Cros explains. “This is consistent with two meta-analyses that conclude that skipping breakfast increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

Family With Teenage Children Eating Meal In Kitchen
(© M. Business – stock.adobe.com)

What about other meals?

Researchers also note that having a late dinner (after 10 p.m.) appears to increase diabetes risk. On the other hand, eating more frequently (roughly 5 times daily) has an association with a lower disease incidence. Conversely, prolonged fasting was only beneficial if that diet included having an early breakfast (before 8 a.m.) and an early dinner.

“Our results suggest that a first meal before 8 am and a last meal before 7 pm may help reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes,” concludes Manolis Kogevinas, an ISGlobal researcher and co-author of the study.

The very same ISGlobal team previously provided compelling evidence regarding the association between an early dinner and a lower risk of breast or prostate cancer. In conclusion, study authors believe these results consolidate the use of chrononutrition (i.e. the association between diet, circadian rhythms, and health) as a way to prevent Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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