If you want to shed the pounds and improve your general health, eat as early in the morning as you can, and avoid late night snacks.

That’s the message from new research which adds to a growing body of evidence showing that eating late at night is bad for you.

Eat late, increase weight

Compared to eating earlier in the day, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found later eating can increase weight, insulin and cholesterol levels, and reduce the body’s ability to burn fat.

[Read more: 10 ways to curb your overeating]

And if that wasn’t bad enough, eating late may also increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.

“We know from our sleep loss studies that when you’re sleep deprived, it negatively affects weight and metabolism in part due to late-night eating, but now these early findings, which control for sleep, give a more comprehensive picture of the benefits of eating earlier in the day,” says research associate professor of psychology Namni Goel, lead author of the study.

In the study, nine healthy weight adults ate in the daytime (three meals and two snacks between 8am and 7pm) for eight weeks, had a break of two weeks to make sure there was no ‘carry over’ effect, and then spent another eight weeks delayed eating (eating three meals and two snacks from noon to 11pm) for eight weeks. Their sleep period was constant, between 11pm to 9am.

Changes in weight, metabolism and energy were measured, and it was found that when participants ate later, compared to eating during the day, weight increased and fewer lipids (fats) were metabolised.

Heart and diabetes risk

Consistently later eating led to higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are linked with cardiovascular problems and other health conditions.

Late eating also led to participants storing carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain, and raised their glucose and insulin levels – all risk factors for diabetes.

[Read more: Is your diet making you ill? 6 unwanted side effects of trying to lose weight]

Eat early, stay fuller

During daytime eating, the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, peaked earlier, while leptin, which keeps you satiated, peaked later.

This suggests that eating earlier makes you hungrier earlier, but this daytime eating keeps you fuller for longer, thus helping prevent overeating later on.

“While lifestyle change is never easy, these findings suggest that eating earlier in the day may be worth the effort to help prevent these detrimental chronic health effects,” says Professor Kelly Allison, senior author of the study.

“We have an extensive knowledge of how overeating affects health and body weight, but now we have a better understanding of how our body processes foods at different times of day over a long period of time.”

And that’s not all...

Past studies have shown that people who eat late weigh more than those who eat earlier - joint US-Spanish research from 2013 found people in a weight-loss program who ate lunch before 3pm lost an average of 22 pounds in 20 weeks, while those who ate lunch after 3pm lost 17 pounds.

Researchers suggest glucose created from the meals might be processed differently in the body depending on the time of day. The late eaters were also more likely to skip breakfast, which is thought to encourage weight gain.

Do you eat more earlier in the day? Tell us in the comments box below