The age-old maxim "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper" may be the best advice to follow to prevent metabolic syndrome, says a new study.
Metabolic syndrome is characterised by abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, insulin resistance and other cardiovascular disease-risk factors.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) study examined the influence exerted by the type of food and specific timing of intake on the development of metabolic syndrome characteristics in mice.
The UAB research revealed that mice, which were fed a meal higher in fat after waking up, had normal metabolic profiles.
Conversely, mice that ate a more carbohydrate-rich diet in the morning and consumed a high-fat meal at the end of the day saw increased weight gain, adiposity, glucose intolerance and other markers of the metabolic syndrome.
"Studies have looked at the type and quantity of food intake, but nobody has undertaken the question of whether the timing of what you eat and when you eat it influences body weight, even though we know sleep and altered circadian rhythms influence body weight," said Molly Bray, professor of epidemiology at the UAB School of Public Health, who led the study.
Bray said the research team found that fat intake at the time of waking seems to turn on fat metabolism very efficiently and also turns on the animal's ability to respond to different types of food later in the day.
When the animals were fed carbohydrates upon waking, carbohydrate metabolism was turned on and seemed to stay on even when the animal was eating different kinds of food later in the day.
"The first meal you have appears to programme your metabolism for the rest of the day," said study author Martin Young, associate professor of medicine at the UAB, in a statement.
"This study suggests that if you ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast it would promote carbohydrate utilisation throughout the rest of the day, whereas, if you have a fat-rich breakfast, you have metabolic plasticity to transfer your energy utilisation between carbohydrate and fat."