By Ram Rao, Ph.D., Principal Research Scientist for Apollo Health

Digestive disorders, which encompass a variety of diseases including but not limited to gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and cancer affects millions of Americans each year. The most common symptoms of digestive disorders include bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, pain, nausea, and vomiting. If digestion is not optimal, it can destabilize the mind and body, creating imbalances and weakening immunity. Most of us routinely experience digestive disturbances, and whether it’s acute or chronic, digestive imbalances are discomforting and can be miserable.

Since the gut serves as the entry point to our complete physiological system, optimal functioning of the digestive system is vital not only to prevent physical imbalances but mental and emotional disturbances as well. At this point, you may be asking, “So, how do I improve my diet and digestion, and thereby improve my physical, mental, and emotional state?” The easiest way to begin is to appreciate that you are what, when, how, where, and why you eat. Today’s article will describe the concept that you are when you eat.

Our close connection with nature helps us to become aware of the role of the sun in our digestion. Our digestive system’s internal clock is regulated by the circadian rhythms of the body to keep it functioning on a schedule. The clock genes that regulate the digestive system are highly influenced by sunlight. That is why, at noon — when the sun is at its peak in the sky — digestion is at its strongest. Similarly, digestive capacity is at its lowest during dawn or in the evening, when the sun is either rising or setting. For these reasons, it is recommended that you eat your largest meal midday.

Studies reveal that subjects who have lunch before 2:00 p.m. as the main meal of the day, tend to suffer less from digestive issues, metabolic disturbances, and weight gain. Conversely, studies indicate that late-lunch eaters — as well as people eating their meals at random times — experience greater insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. For those who eat three meals per day, studies also suggest that a light meal coinciding with the rising or setting sun is a healthy practice to keep the body-mind-emotions in a harmonious state.

Healthy eating also relates to the food-sleep connection. First, it is advisable to maintain a three-hour gap between dinner and sleep — which means you need to refrain from eating any caloric food or beverage after the last meal of the day. If you are using Ketosis (the natural process by which your body breaks down its own fat to use as fuel) and the KetoFLEX 12/3 plan, then you need to break the overnight fast after a minimum of twelve hours. Studies indicate that a fasting window of twelve to sixteen+ hours between the last meal at night and the first meal the next morning promotes metabolic health, promoting the switch from glucose to fat metabolism. This leads to the ability to produce ketones that have numerous protective effects on the brain. In addition, researchers have learned that metabolically healthy people, who engage in an overnight fast of 12 to 16+ hours, the body’s internal recycling program (known as autophagy) rids the body’s cellular debris, including subcellular organelles, old cell membranes, worn-out cells, and other cellular debris. Autophagy serves as a crucial defense mechanism against toxins, inflammation, infection, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer.

Also, consider how frequently you eat. This applies to people who are still working on achieving insulin sensitivity. Too frequent snacking requires for the stomach to keep releasing the digestive juices and for the pancreas to release insulin. Over time, this can cause insulin insensitivity and other digestive imbalances. Remember also that it takes about three hours for a meal to empty itself into the lower digestive tract. So if you have to snack, make sure that it is at least 3 hours after the last eating event. This is now substantiated by evidence-based research studies that show people who eat just 2-3 meals and avoid snacking tend to suffer less from metabolic disturbances.

So, what could this look like in practice? Despite not having any digestive disturbances or cognitive issues, I am a 3x individual (three meals compromising of two small meals and a large midday lunch). My last meal of the day is at 7:00 p.m. with a 10:30 p.m. bedtime. I aim for seven hours of sleep, with a habit of waking up early, and I also maintain a twelve-to-fifteen-hour fast between dinner and the next day’s meal, which means my small meal the next day is only after 9:00 a.m. While the timing and the total number of meals may differ based on each individual’s underlying health issues, these standard guidelines of timed meal practices benefit one and all. With the advent of a new year, maybe you could take a resolution to adhere to these eating recommendations in order to experience optimal health and wellness.

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