A new study is cautioning against those late-in-the-day trips to the refrigerator. Because the evidence suggests that, when it comes to our health, it's not just what you eat, but when you eat it.

Okay, right off the bat I need to tell you that this study only considered the health benefits of time-restricted feeding (TRF) on mice. The results are encouraging nonetheless, inspiring the researchers to perform similar experiments on humans in the future. Indeed, this team from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may very well be on to something, as other studies have shown the remarkable benefits of intermittent fasting.

There are four significant take-aways from the study, which now appears at Cell Metabolism:

  1. TRF is most effective when food is eaten within a 9 to 12 hour window during the so-called "active phase" of the day (i.e. no consumption of calories for 12- to 15-hour stretches each day).
  2. TRF is a therapeutic intervention against obesity that does not require the restriction of calories.
  3. TRF protects against metabolic diseases even when briefly interrupted on weekends.
  4. TRF is effective against high-fat, high-fructose, and high-sucrose diets.

Subsequently, the researchers say TRF diets could be used to stave off high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.

Mice whose diets were restricted within a time frame developed less body fat. Large fat droplets (white, left panel) accumulated in brown adipose tissue of mice freely fed a high-fat diet compared with the less fat-filled tissue of mice fed the same diet in a nine-hour time window (right). (Image and caption: Salk Institute)

This Salk news release explains more, including how the mice experiments were conducted. The researchers also put together this tidy little video in which they describe their work.

Read the entire study at Cell Metabolism: "Time-Restricted Feeding Is a Preventative and Therapeutic Intervention against Diverse Nutritional Challenges".

Image: Voraorn Ratanakorn/Shutterstock

Follow George on Twitter and friend him on Facebook.