Healthy food arranged as a clock on a table

Tick Tock: Following the Clock for Meals and Healthy Weight Management

Meals or Snacks?

In the early 1970’s meals made up 82% of adult calorie intake and snacks contributed 18%. Fast-forward to today, and meals make up 77% of calories while snacks contribute 23%. So which is better?

Because the times of day and night that we eat affect our body’s circadian clock rhythm, which regulates all aspects of metabolism, meal timing can have serious implications for the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and more. You essentially have a daily clock in your brain along with additional clocks in your organs throughout your body that make up your circadian clock rhythm. These clocks work interdependently directing and managing the repair, building and cleanup processes in your body. Together these clocks make up your circadian rhythm, which is controlled by light and darkness – sun up and sun down. Light at the start of the day starts metabolic, physiological, and behavioral programs in your body that function on a 24-hour cycle. Just as your brain needs sleep each night to rest, repair and rejuvenate, all of your other organs need downtime to reset and repair as well.

More and more research is coming out with new findings around all the processes your circadian clock rhythm directs. What we do know is they need to be considered along with meal timing to achieve optimal health.

When people think of eating a snack, in their mind often it ties in to a treat. Decisions around what to eat often are highly processed choices with little nutritional value. The problem with that is if you are eating more than one snack then your eating pattern will be heavy on ultra-processed choices offering little to no nutritional-value. People often end up with nutrient deficiencies even with plenty of calories coming in.


What does this mean for me?

Think ‘mini meal’ instead of ‘snack’ and you’re more likely to choose nutrient-dense foods such as fruit, vegetables, or whole grains instead of processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt and calories such as chips, energy bars, cookies and candy.

For example, instead of an energy bar, choose a piece of fruit with nut butter or 1 oz of nuts. Or instead of chips, opt for plain popcorn, which is a whole grain. Or instead of cookies, satisfy your sweet tooth with homemade trail mix that combines dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apples, etc), nuts and seeds. Then plan meals around vegetables, fruit, whole grains and sources of protein no matter what time of day you eat. Ideas might be leftover stir-fry vegetables, brown rice and chicken or fish. These foods easily make a delicious and satisfying meal at any time. If short on time, use your crockpot to prepare meals in advance that are ready whenever you want a meal.


Who can help me?

Registered dietitians are trained and experienced in helping you plan meals that fit your lifestyle and food preferences. Book an appointment with a Saluswell dietitian to make it easy to eat healthy and delicious foods that are tailored to your lifestyle.



  1. Mekary, R., 2019. Breakfast Skipping and Type 2 Diabetes: Where Do We Stand?. The Journal of Nutrition, 149(1), pp.1-3.
  2. Lin HH, Farkas ME. Altered Circadian Rhythms and Breast Cancer: From the Human to the Molecular Level. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018;9:219. Published 2018 May 4. doi:10.3389/fendo.2018.00219
  3. St-Onge, M., Ard, J., Baskin, M., Chiuve, S., Johnson, H., Kris-Etherton, P. and Varady, K., 2020. Meal Timing And Frequency: Implications For Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: A Scientific Statement From The American Heart Association.