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The No Carbs After 6pm Rule! Now Featuring Science!

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | August 29, 2017

When it comes to nutrition, I tends to side with science—or at least common sense and strong anecdotal evidence. Usually, this serves me well, but sometimes, I end up looking like a dork when cutting-edge clinical research accidentally validates some made up crap that I’ve spent years debating.

Case in point, I’ve never been a huge fan of the No Carbs After 6pm Rule. The idea with this advice is that your body can’t properly utilize “extra” fuel in the evening, therefore it’s prone to convert those carbs to fat.

This never made sense to me. As long as your total caloric intake is equal to or less than your expenditure, those evening carbs just go towards replenishing glycogen and giving you enough energy to brush and floss your teeth with vim and vigor. In other words, it was (note: foreshadowing use of the past tense) my opinion that a tortilla at 7pm was no worse than a tortilla at 2pm, as long as you didn’t eat both a 2pm and a 7pm tortilla. Too many carbs are bad no matter when you eat them.

That said, I begrudgingly accepted the 6pm Rule since, for many people struggling to avoid sweets and junk food, life can get a little bingetastic later in the evening. You’re tired, you’re Netflixing, and you’re more prone to nibble. When this happens, a hard, fast rule may help draw the line.

So I admit the 6pm Rule is a little commonsensical.

But thanks to this nifty little study in Scientific Reports, the 6pm Rule now features common sense and a refreshing dash of science! (Albeit not for the reason you’d think.)

In the study, 29 men with either normal blood sugar or pre-diabetes were divided into two groups, resulting in one very uncomfortable man. After that was dealt with, one group was fed a high-fat diet from waking to 1:30pm and a high-carb diet from 4:30pm to 10:00pm. The other group flipped the fat and carbs.

The study lasted a month. Everyone lost about a pound on average. (There goes the weight gain theory.) But here’s the interesting part: while the normal blood sugar subjects weren’t impacted, the guys with prediabetes who ate night time high-carbs experienced an almost 8% increase in blood sugar levels. This means their ability to deal with carbs became impaired in a way that could potentially worsen their condition and even lead to full-blown diabetes.

And I’m not even going to tell you what happened to the poor sap they split in half.

The study has some solid previous research backing it up, so I’m pretty swayed. My dented ego aside, plot twists like this are cool. It’s as if you thought Grand Moff Tarkin was bad for blowing up Alderaan, but then it turns out the real nasty thing he did was refuse reasonable benefits to Death Star employees. I mean, mass genocide may seem like a more egregious crime, but try telling that to the widows of the superlaser operators when they learned Mr. Tarkin (or “Moff Diver,” as the garbage handlers called him behind his back) hadn’t provided their husbands with life insurance.

This study doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat a peach or some grapes if you feel peckish tonight watching Game of Thrones. Or if you’re an athlete carb-loading for training/event purposes, do what you gotta do. But generally speaking—and especially if you’re prediabetic or working on developing healthy eating habits—there’s no reason to load up on bread, pasta, potatoes, or rice at dinner. And if you’re going to indulge in something sweet, it’s probably better to enjoy an afternoon delight as opposed to a late night nosh. Unhealthy blood sugar metabolism isn’t as obvious as a spare tire, but don’t let it get out of control. Believe it or not, dodging diabetes is every bit as important as looking svelte in your Speedos.

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