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When You Eat Matters As Much As What You Eat

When you eat matters as much as what you eat, says a new study published in PNAS.

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We must have all been nagged to eat on time at one point or another in our lives. Turns out that this has some truth in it, pertaining to our health: a new study suggests that when one eats is as important as the content itself because the energy-making components of our cells — the mitochondria — function in synchrony with our biological clock.

The mitochondria are the power plant of the cell: this is where energy is generated. They are highly regulated by the circadian clock of the body; the latter monitors the rhythm of our activities, from sleep to metabolism to eating. Study author Dr Gad Asher explains that the biological clock works as a “daily calendar” that provides the body with the necessary information such that the body can prepare itself for what holds in the future.

Asher and his colleagues looked into mitochondria for circadian changes. The latter would also monitor day-night cycles by bringing about peaks and falls in the energy levels of the cells. That was how they found hundreds of proteins in the mitochondria, some of which would peak in terms of their numbers once a day. They also spotted the proteins that are part of the mitochondrial circadian clock which would monitor these processes; also, the majority of the circadian proteins would reach their peaks four hours into the day-part of the cycle (this is the case for mice which are active at night).

Of these proteins, is an important enzyme that regulates the rate at which sugar is used up to generate energy. The quantity of this enzyme peaks four hours into daylight: the researchers suggests that the capacity of the mitochondria to burn sugar would also peak at that time – a theory they later confirmed.

Furthermore, another protein which controls the entry of fatty acids into mitochondria peaks only at the 18th hour — this was also found to be the time when fat processing was at its optimal rate.

The researchers explain that their new findings are in line with previous studies they conducted in their laboratory: that if mice were to eat only at night when they are active instead of throughout the day and night, they would eat the same amount of calories while their liver lipid levels would be 50% lower.

They conclude that when you eat is as important as what you eat. They indicate that being more conscious of the timing of one’s cellular activities might help with making the most of what we eat in a healthier manner.

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