Could time-restricted eating be the key to curbing the diabetes epidemic?

There’s good news for more than one million Australians who have type 2 diabetes with new ACU research starting to tease apart how changing the time you eat might benefit your health.

Nutrition researchers at ACU’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research found that for people with type 2 diabetes, eating all meals and snacks within a nine-hour ‘window’ while fasting the rest of the time was a practical way to limit post-dinner snacking of foods such as ice cream, chocolate and alcohol.

Published in Nutrients,the research found time-restricted eating – condensing the time between the first and last energy intake of the day – could be a useful dietary strategy for managing the diabetes epidemic.

Lead author Dr Evelyn Parr said our bodies are not designed to digest foods at all hours of the day and night. With our busy lifestyles we can often start eating early in the morning and still be snacking just before we go to bed. And such an eating pattern is playing havoc with our health.

“Shift work is necessary for our society but it has clear detrimental effects such as a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes,” she said.

Dr Parr said people with type 2 diabetes may be able to benefit from time-restricted eating as a long-term dietary strategy for blood glucose management.

“We found that time restricted eating was feasible for five days of the week with no adverse effects,” Dr Parr said. “This first study was important as a diet may work well in the lab setting, but if it can’t be adhered to in the real world then it’s not practical or useful.

“We found that four weeks of time restricted eating was achievable for people with type 2 diabetes for at least five days of the week but interestingly it didn’t influence daily energy intake. Yet, when we looked a bit further, we found that on days where people did comply, they consumed less energy mostly by a reduced intake of carbohydrate and alcohol.”

Extended fasting has been shown to improve metabolic health outcomes even without substantial weight loss.

Dr Parr said this approach gives the body a long break from food each night and reinforces our natural circadian rhythms.

Research has shown time-restricted eating can reduce insulin resistance, inflammation, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, improve brain function and repair DNA, although most of the research so far comes from pre-clinical (animal) models.

Dr Parr said humans have a natural body clock that is affected by sleeping patterns, physical activity, what we eat and when we eat.

It is believed disruption to our body clocks – such as eating late - can be detrimental to health and contribute to the development of diseases like obesity and diabetes.

“Type 2 diabetes can be a really difficult disease to manage” she said. “Now that we know this is a strategy that people with diabetes can adhere to, our next step is to investigate how longer term time-restricted eating might better manage or even improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.”

If you have type 2 diabetes, are aged between 35-65 years old and do not use insulin, you could be eligible to participate in the upcoming study. If you are interested in volunteering, please email trial coordinator Bridget Radford on bridget.radford@acu.edu.au or phone (03) 9230 8284.

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