Dieters who ate early lunches tended to lose more weight than those who had their midday meal on the later side, in a new Spanish study.
The finding doesn't prove bumping up your lunch hour will help you shed those extra pounds. But it is possible eating times play a role in how the body regulates its weight, researchers said.
"We should now seriously start to consider the timing of food - not just what we eat, but also when we eat," said study co-author Frank Scheer, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
His team's research included 420 people attending nutrition clinics in southeast Spain. Along with going to regular group therapy sessions with nutrition and exercise counselling, dieters measured, weighed and recorded their food and reported on their daily physical activity.
Study participants were on a Mediterranean diet, in which about 40 per cent of each day's calories are consumed at lunch. About half of people said they ate lunch before 3:00 p.m. and half after.
Over 20 weeks of counselling, early and late lunchers ate a similar amount of food, based on their food journals, and burned a similar amount of calories through daily activities.
However, early eaters lost an average of 22 pounds - just over 11 per cent of their starting weight - and late eaters dropped 17 pounds, or nine percent of their initial weight.
What time dieters ate breakfast or dinner wasn't linked to their ultimate weight loss, according to findings published Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity.
Dr. Yunsheng Ma, a nutrition researcher from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, said people who eat later may have extra food in their stomach when they go to sleep - which could mean more of it isn't burned and ends up being stored as fat.
"One of the other aspects to this is, what we know is glucose tolerance for example - how well you can deal with sugar in your food - your body is better able to cope with that in the morning than in the evening," Scheer told Reuters Health.
Regardless of exact meal times, Ma said it's important for people to spread their calories out throughout the day.
"Have a good breakfast and a good lunch, and at dinner, people should eat lightly," he advised.
(For more Life & Style news and updates, follow us on Twitter: @AhramLifestyle or our Facebook page)