Nighttime Snacking and Breast Cancer Risk

Raise your hand if you’re a late night eater.

Does this sound familiar? The sun sets, you sink into your couch, switch on Netflix and enjoy a snack. This is possibly the most relaxing way to end the day. Ok, certainly an evening meditation and gentle moon yoga practice would be more relaxing… but then how would you eat your hummus?

Perhaps instead of the couch and reruns of Community, you went out instead to unwind. You saw familiar faces in all of the usual places and relaxed while making conversation with people you enjoy. And then you went home and had a snack – hey, that hummus still needs to be eaten!

Whatever we do to lead up to it, nighttime snacking is commonplace in many of our lives. While it may be delicious, a recent research report suggests what Oprah has been trying to tell us all along – it might just be a terrible idea.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Ruth E. Patterson wanted to see whether there was a connection between nighttime snacking and the number one cause of cancer death among women – breast cancer.

Canadian Cancer Society estimated that each year, 25,000 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer and that 5,000 women would die from it. That’s about 68 women being diagnosed every day.

Dr. Patterson’s research followed 2,413 women with early stage breast cancer for 12 years. During this time, her team studied the connection between fasting at night and the development of new primary tumours.

What they found was that women who fasted for less than 13 hours a night had a 36 per cent higher risk for breast cancer recurrence compared with those who fasted for 13 or more hours. Additionally, those who fasted for 13 hours or more also had better blood sugar levels and slept for longer.

The effect of fasting on blood sugar is likely responsible for the decrease in cancer recurrence. A growing body of research is pointing to a connection between type II diabetes mellitus and the risk of developing breast cancer and breast cancer mortality.

Thirteen hours can feel like an eternity for habit nighttime snackers. For those who normally eat breakfast around 8 a.m., this would mean that from 7 p.m. onward, there would be no snacking.

Focusing on whole foods during the day can help stave off hunger late at night. Whole grains and other sources of complex carbohydrates, such as lentils and beans, digest slowly and keep you feeling full longer. Steer clear of processed grains and sweets, which can cause your blood sugar to crash and leave you feeling like you need to snack. Caffeine during the day can also cause spikes and crashes that can affect your hunger levels hours later in the day. Drinking teas and fruit-infused waters can help to satisfy your craving for something flavourful at night while you are unwinding or watching TV.

Changing habits, especially where blood sugar and its related cravings are concerned, can be quite difficult. However, once you begin to focus on a whole foods diet, your blood sugar levels will balance out. Without highs and crashes, the need for late-night eating will subside.

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