Nutrition Research Reviews

  • Nutrition Research Reviews / Volume 27 / Issue 01 / June 2014, pp 107-118
  • Copyright © The Author 2014 The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution licence
  • DOI: (About DOI), Published online: 25 March 2014

Physiological responses to food intake throughout the day

Jonathan D. Johnston 

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK


Circadian rhythms act to optimise many aspects of our biology and thereby ensure that physiological processes are occurring at the most appropriate time. The importance of this temporal control is demonstrated by the strong associations between circadian disruption, morbidity and disease pathology. There is now a wealth of evidence linking the circadian timing system to metabolic physiology and nutrition. Relationships between these processes are often reciprocal, such that the circadian system drives temporal changes in metabolic pathways and changes in metabolic/nutritional status alter core molecular components of circadian rhythms. Examples of metabolic rhythms include daily changes in glucose homeostasis, insulin sensitivity and postprandial response. Time of day alters lipid and glucose profiles following individual meals whereas, over a longer time scale, meal timing regulates adiposity and body weight; these changes may occur via the ability of timed feeding to synchronise local circadian rhythms in metabolically active tissues. Much of the work in this research field has utilised animal and cellular model systems. Although these studies are highly informative and persuasive, there is a largely unmet need to translate basic biological data to humans. The results of such translational studies may open up possibilities for using timed dietary manipulations to help restore circadian synchrony and downstream physiology. Given the large number of individuals with disrupted rhythms due to, for example, shift work, jet-lag, sleep disorders and blindness, such dietary manipulations could provide widespread improvements in health and also economic performance.

(Received August 05 2013)

(Revised December 27 2013)

(Accepted January 13 2014)

Key Words:

  • Circadian clock;
  • Metabolism;
  • Breakfast;
  • Night eating syndrome


Corresponding author: Dr Jonathan D. Johnston, fax +44 1483 686401, email


  Abbreviations: FAA, food anticipatory activity; FEO, food-entrainable oscillator; SCN, suprachiasmatic nuclei