The most important meal of the day might have more of an impact on health than expected: a study conducted by researchers from Columbia University found that eating breakfast later in the day or skipping it all together could raise the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Timing meals consumed throughout the day was found to affect health because of its influence on the body’s “internal clock,” said Columbia University’s associate professor of nutritional medicine and the study’s lead author Marie-Pierre St-Onge.

“In animal studies, it appears that when animals receive food while in an inactive phase, such as when they are sleeping, their internal clocks are reset in a way that can alter nutrient metabolism, resulting in greater weight gain, insulin resistance and inflammation. However, more research would need to be done in humans before that can be stated as a fact," St-Onge added.

After looking at other scientific studies about breakfast and heart disease, the group of researchers discovered that people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight and have health problems such as diabetes. On the other hand, people who eat breakfast every day were found less likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Healthy eating also should involve being considerate of what is being consumed, which means taking the time to eat without getting distracted. Like other activities in a busy day, people should include “eating healthy and being physically active” as part of their scheduling, she added.

“We suggest eating mindfully, by paying attention to planning both what you eat and when you eat meals and snacks, to combat emotional eating. Many people find that emotions can trigger eating episodes when they are not hungry, which often leads to eating too many calories from foods that have low nutritional value,” St-Onge said.