London - Lunching like a prince and dining like a pauper, as the saying goes, could be the key to keeping trim.
Research has shown that our ability to make use of the sugar found in food fluctuates throughout the day.
And if our body clocks are disturbed, we are more likely to put on weight.
The US scientists studied mice but they believe that people could benefit from timing their meals to align with their body clocks.
This would mean lunch being the biggest meal of the day. The evening meal should be light and post-dinner snacks avoided.
Professor Carl Johnson, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, measured levels of insulin - a hormone that plays a key role in the conversion of sugar in food into energy.
He found that rather than amounts of insulin staying relatively constant over time, the animals found it harder to deal with sugar during periods when they would usually be asleep.
However, in animals whose body clocks were sent haywire, sugar posed a problem day and night. The mice also put on much more fat than usual, the journal Cell reports.
The findings suggest that if food is eaten at the wrong time of day, the body stores more fat.
Professor Johnson said: “If you metabolise food during the day, when you are active, you tend not to convert so much of that to fat. Whereas food eaten during the night or late evening is more likely to be converted into fat.
“If your body clock is disrupted by shift work, the same kind of thing can happen.”
He said that Mediterranean diets, in which the main meal is eaten in the middle of the day, were ‘probably healthier’ and recommended eating a light supper and avoiding snacks later in the evening.
Another recent study stressed the importance of thinking about when we consume food.
It found that dieters who lunched late lost less weight than those who had the meal earlier in the day.
This was despite the two groups eating an identical amount of food, exercising for the same time and sleeping for the same number of hours. - Daily Mail