For many people, there’s something irresistible about the idea of a midnight snack or a movie night packed with popcorn and sweet treats. But though we all know indulging in biscuits, brownies and crisps is bad for our health at any time of day, how many of us are aware of the toll these foods can take when they’re eaten after 7pm?
If recent findings are to be believed, then we all need to start making our evening binges a thing of the past. As reported here, the European Society of Cardiology has found that people who eat large meals after 7pm experience dramatic increases of blood pressure overnight.
This is worrying because high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is associated with all kinds of health issues, including heart disease and stroke. It’s also concerning because most of us consider 7pm an ideal time to eat dinner!
If the research is accurate, and eating late really can cause problems with our blood pressure, then what is the best way to stay healthy? Well, it isn’t as simple as eating dinner at 6.30pm.
Current Guidance for Healthy Eating
According to the NHS, there are several factors that go into a healthy diet. The first recommendation is that men consume 2,500 calories and women 2,000 calories a day. This will differ slightly depending upon your age, fitness, health and weight. However, if you get into the habit of eating significantly more or less than this, you could be putting your health at risk.
The calories you consume should also be nutritious, and not simply made up of sweets and junk food. Your daily diet should include:
- 5 portions of fruits and vegetables
- Starchy carbohydrates, preferably wholegrain or high fibre
- Protein in the form of lean meat, fish, eggs, pulses and/or beans
- Low fat dairy
- 6 to 8 glasses of water
Red meat should not be eaten too regularly; however, in small portions it does have health benefits, as it is packed with protein, iron and zinc. If you are eating more than 90g a day you are advised to cut down.
Sugary drinks, chocolate, sweets and snack foods that are oily, fatty or salty are not strictly off-limits. However, they should be restricted; eat this kind of junk food in small portions, and not on a regular basis.
The newest research also suggests that eating at the same time every day is also important. Heart expert Dr Ebru Özpelit advises that we should eat a good breakfast, avoid skipping lunch, and keep our evening meal small, light, and ideally before 7pm.
Avoiding High Blood Pressure
It’s not always easy to avoid developing high blood pressure. This is because it is related to age, genetics and family history, and even sleep deprivation.
If you think you may be at risk of high blood pressure, you should visit your doctor for a blood pressure test. A normal blood pressure measurement is anything between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. High blood pressure is considered anything over 140/90mmHg. However blood pressure between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg is considered prehypertension – this means your blood pressure could continue to rise and pose a risk to your health. If your blood pressure is in this range, you may wish to start making some changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Things you can do to limit your risk of (or lower existing) high blood pressure include:
- Eating less than 6g of salt a day (roughly one teaspoon)
- Cutting down your alcohol intake, and avoiding alcohol "binges"
- Losing weight
- Exercising (the NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week)
- Cutting down on caffeine
- Quitting smoking
- Getting a good night’s sleep
In some cases, this won’t be sufficient, and medication will be required.
Medical Treatments for High Blood Pressure
There are several different treatments for high blood pressure. The five most common are:
These medications are prescribed depending upon your age, health and family history. Find out more about pursuing a healthy lifestyle and avoiding high blood pressure by visiting The Online Clinic’s hypertension information page.