Set a schedule for when you eat high fat foods and you could lose weight and boost your metabolism, according to new research.
Scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel say eating junk food at the same time each day means the fats are not stored –– instead they're used for energy when food isn't available.
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Professor Oren Froy led a research team who observed four groups of mice on different diets with the same amount of calories for 18 weeks.
One group was fed a high-fat diet on a fixed schedule –– eating at the same time for the same period every day –– another group ate a high fat diet at unscheduled times. The third group ate a low-fat diet on a fixed schedule and the fourth group ate an unscheduled low-fat diet.
After weighing the mice throughout the experiment, the researchers found the mice who ate a scheduled high-fat diet had a lower final body weight than those who ate an unscheduled diet –– regardless of whether it was low-fat or high-fat.
The mice on the scheduled high-fat diet also had a changed metabolism, which meant the fats weren't stored but were utilised for energy between meals when no food was available.
Previous research has suggested eating a high fat diet or disrupting animals' daily rhythms affects metabolism and leads to obesity.
The researchers wanted to see if eating regular meals at the same time would balance the biological clock and reduce the effects of the high-fat foods.
"Our research shows that the timing of food consumption takes precedence over the amount of fat in the diet, leading to improved metabolism and helping to prevent obesity," Dr Froy said in a media release.
"Improving metabolism through the careful scheduling of meals, without limiting the content of the daily menu, could be used as a therapeutic tool to prevent obesity in humans."
But Professor Michael Cowley, director of the Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute, told ninemsn the results could be attributed to the fact the mice exercised more.
"When animals get restricted access to food, they become more and more active," he said.
"What we've got here is a model of animals that are exercising a lot."
Professor Cowley said the mice were also fed at the time they would normally be going to sleep, which could further agitate them.
"By only feeding them when they are supposed to be going to sleep, the animals get quite agitated and run a lot," he said.
Professor Cowley said there is some merit to the idea of the circadian rhythm influencing how we process fat.
"The authors' interpretation is that short-term access to high fat foods re-sets the circadian rhythms of the body. That's a valid interpretation, but it's equally valid that if you exercise, you're healthier," he said.
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But the model is unlikely to be applicable to humans.
"In humans, this eating pattern would be not eating at all during the day and staying up late and eating –– I think most people would see that as a pretty radical solution," Professor Cowley said.
The study was published in the FASEB Journal.