All jokes aside about “early-bird specials,” early-evening eaters may be on to something! At least when it comes to heart problems in women.

That’s the finding from researchers who recently studied the link between evening mealtimes and women’s risk for heart disease.

Study details: The heart health of 112 women (average age 33) was evaluated by researchers at the beginning of the 12-month study and again at the end. The women kept food diaries recording everything they ate—and the time of day—for a week around the time of the two cardiac assessments.

Through the assessments, a heart health score was created for each woman based on her body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels as well as lifestyle factors such as not smoking, being physically active and eating a healthy diet. At the end of the study, the researchers calculated the percentage of calories the women consumed after 6 pm and 8 pm…and compared that data with the women’s follow-up heart health scores.

The findings: The women who consumed a higher proportion of their daily calories after 6 pm were more likely to have a higher BMI…higher blood pressure…worse long-term control of blood sugar…and poorer overall heart health, according the study, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting. The results were similar when women consumed more calories after 8 pm than earlier in the day.

Also: The link between late-day calories and adverse cardiac health markers was even stronger for the Hispanic women in the study.

“So far, lifestyle approaches to prevent heart disease have focused on what we eat and how much we eat,” said Nour Makarem, PhD, lead author and associate research scientist at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. “These preliminary results indicate that intentional eating that is mindful of the timing and proportion of calories in evening meals may represent a simple, modifiable behavior that can help lower heart disease risk.”

Takeaway: Adjusting the timing of meals and snacks may be an effective way to improve a woman’s risk for heart disease.

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