It’s unfair that heart-healthy February falls right when we’re reaching for cold weather comfort food. But this inconvenience reminds us that we need to stay vigilant all year long — not just when it’s convenient.

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States is the result of heart disease.

But it’s not just what you eat that affects your heart health. It’s also when you eat.

scientific statement released by the American Heart Association says that there is reason to believe, that the timing of our meals matters a lot when it comes to cardiovascular disease. The conclusion: Eating earlier is better.

The body maintains its own internal clock, so eating later can reset that rhythm and alter metabolism.

“Meal timing may affect health due to its impact on the body’s internal clock. In animal studies, it appears that when animals receive food while in an inactive phase, such as when they are sleeping, their internal clocks are reset in a way that can alter nutrient metabolism, resulting in greater weight gain, insulin resistance and inflammation. However, more research would need to be done in humans before that can be stated as a fact,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D., writing group chair and an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University in New York City.

The statement stresses that eating a healthy diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products still has a significant impact on overall cardiovascular health, but that there is a clear link between eating breakfast and having lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

About 20% to 30% of U.S. adults are guilty of skipping the first meal of the day. These individuals are at a greater risk for obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels, insulin resistance as well as reduced insulin sensitivity in studies.

The statement does not provide strict rules about meal timing, but St-Onge said “later in the evening, it’s harder for the body to process glucose [sugar], compared with earlier in the day.”

So skip out on the late night leftovers, and try to time your eating habits so you’re not famished as bedtime approaches. Your waistline and health might depend on it.

Originally published Feb. 21, 2018

Also see, 7 great alternatives to milk for dairy-free diets.

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.