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Meal Timing: What Our Genetics Tell Us About When We Eat

Meal Timing: What Our Genetics Tell Us About When We Eat

When it comes to our daily habits, it may not surprise you to learn that our genetics play a pretty large role in what we eat. However, did you know that genetics can also influence when we eat?


Most of the time, we assume that our habits and other environmental factors play the largest role in meal timing. Some cultures also have specific meal timings unique to the region. For example, most dinners in Italy are eaten between 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm, while in Norway, dinner time is between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm.


The timing of when we eat affects everything from energy regulation and insulin production to the ability to manage a healthy body weight.


Today, we’ll talk about how genetics impact meal timings, and how you can figure out the best time to eat breakfast or other meals based on your unique genetic profile.

What our Genetics Tell Us About Meal Timing

It may surprise you to learn that genetics actually play a large role in determining when we eat. 

There have been multiple studies done in the last several years that have tried to learn more about the role genetics play in meal timing. Additionally, scientists have probed whether there are certain genetic variants that can be linked to a preference for specific breakfast timings - most particularly, a desire to eat breakfast later in the day.


In one study done on a small group of Spanish twin pairs, researchers found that genetic influences accounted for a “significant proportion of the variability of food timing, particularly breakfast.” 

They concluded that since the best time to eat breakfast is influenced so much more strongly by our DNA, it’s probably best to focus on lunch and dinner times if you’re looking to make positive changes related to health or weight loss.

What’s the Best Time to Eat Breakfast? 

While the timing of our hunger first thing in the morning may be influenced by our genetics, there are still objectively ideal times to eat breakfast.


There’s a reason why most people consider breakfast the most important meal of the day. Consuming a healthy breakfast is related to a greater intake of nutrients over the day as a whole. It’s also been shown to offer better coverage of nutritional recommendations, and better body weight control.


Most dietitians agree that regardless of when you eat lunch, you should always aim to eat breakfast no less than 2 hours after you wake up. However, as long as you follow those guidelines, the best time to eat breakfast depends on the individual. It should typically be eaten 4-5 hours before lunch. If you regularly eat lunch at 1:00 pm, you should aim to eat breakfast around 8:00 am, or no later than 9:00 am.


If you have to go more than 4-5 hours between meals, try to eat a healthy snack in between. A small handful of almonds, cut-up veggies, or even some whole-grain toast with peanut butter or avocado are all great choices.

What the Eating Insights Report Can Tell Us About Meal Timing 

As you learn more about the ways your genetics impact your eating habits and taste preferences, it will be easier for you to work within those parameters to develop a healthier diet.


Our newest product, the Eating Insights Report, aims to make this even easier. Using your DNA, we can offer you more insights into your unique eating habits, including the best time to eat breakfast according to your DNA. Once you know that, you can find your personal best time to eat dinner, snacks, and other meals to make sure you’re not overeating, or eating too late.


Learn more about the Eating Insights Report here, then sign up today to start digging into the details of how your genetics affects your eating habits.

Updated on
Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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