What’s the best choice when it comes to eating habits surrounding meal frequency: eating several smaller meals or three larger meals throughout a day? The answer might not be the same for everybody.
Many studies suggest that smaller, more frequent meals may be healthier overall. Yet, mixed results from other recent studies suggest there is no significant difference between several small meals or three large ones. Instead, you must find the option that works best for you and your lifestyle.
Here’s a little more on what the research has to say:
One argument for eating several small food portions throughout the day is that it keeps your metabolism revved. Your body uses energy to digest food, so the theory is that the more frequently you eat, the more calories your body is burning. Researchers fed study participants the same number of calories divided into either one or four meals and found that increased meal frequency also increased post-meal energy expenditure and fat utilization.
However, other studies did not find significant differences in resting metabolic rate or energy expenditure between low and high meal frequencies.
Even if the frequency of your eating habits doesn’t have an effect on calories burned, does it influence how many calories you consume? The research is mixed as well. Two studies—one in obese men and one in lean men— assessed how eating breakfast as one meal vs divided into four smaller food portions would influence appetite and energy consumption. In both cases, increased meal frequency lowered hunger and appetite, which may mean that several small meals may potentially prevent you from overeating. That being said, only the lean men ended up consuming less in the following meal.
Chronic Disease Risk Factors
Maintaining normal blood sugar and lipid levels is key for preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Some studies have found that eating smaller food portions reduces insulin excretion, while others did not find any significant difference in insulin or blood sugar responses.
Mixed results have been found with lipid and cholesterol levels, too. In one clinical trial, participants were randomized to eat either three meals a day or three meals plus three snacks a day. There were no differences in metabolic variables except for an increase in HDL (aka the good cholesterol) in the 3-meal group. Yet, another small study compared three vs nine meals per day and found that more frequent meals significantly decreased LDL (aka the bad cholesterol).
The Bottom Line
This one will be specific to each reader. With various findings on eating habits, likely due to varying study designs, more research is needed. Regardless, what’s most important is the quality of food you eat, the proportion of nutrients you eat and understanding your behavior and lifestyle.
If you tend to be a snacker or want to try out a more frequent eating routine, Life’s Abundance supplements are an excellent option. We designed them to fill the most common gaps with a variety of clean, plant-based and organic ingredients. Of course, it helps that they’re convenient and delicious!
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