by Marion Nestle
Jun 13 2007

Meal frequency

I’ve just been asked this question: “When it comes to meals, what’s the verdict for health and weight loss: 3 square meals or 6 mini meals throughout the day?” My take on this one: There are two schools of thought. One is that eating frequent small meals keeps you from getting hungry and maintains insulin at a steady level. The other is that the more times a day you eat, the more calories you are likely to take in. When meals were small, the first idea worked pretty well. These days, evidence favors the second interpretation. Calories are what count and most people can’t keep meals and snacks small enough to keep calorie intake under control.

  • Jan

    Nice observation, thanks

  • Caroline

    The advice is fine if all you are considering is nutritional impact. What nutritionists and dieticians don’t consider though, is the effect of the stomach / GIT having to constantly be churning over food. The stomach is a muscle and needs rest, just like any other muscle. Experiments done with people taking small meals throughout the day have shown that there are still resides of breakfast food in the stomach at the end of the day. This delays transit time, and increases the risk of food putrification (aka rotting) within the digestive tract. What might the impact of this be over the course of years? Could this be a factor in cancer within the digestive tract? Hyper/hypoacidity? Hypo/hyperglycemia? With 2 or 3 meals per day, at least the contents of the stomach can clear and the stomach can rest before being assaulted with the next meal! (With the type of food most people eat, it is an assault!) My father went from being a person who had to have small meals throughout the day, to having 2 (only 2!) meals a day and in the process returned to his ideal weight and improved his health dramatically. If done properly, fewer meals usually bring better health.

  • Fewer meals probably is probably more ideal for us, as that surely is the way our hunter/gatherer ancestors ate (we still have hunter-gather bodies). Their grain-free, nutrient-dense diet would have kept blood sugar steady, even without regular meals, and that keeps hunger at bay.

    3 meals or 6 meals/snacks are both unhealthy if they are high in carbohydrates and keep the blood sugar high until the next meal. All that insulin production will lead to beta-cell burnout if thehigh sugars don’t burn them out first.

  • I’ve said it before – if you are hungry two or three hours after a meal, you did not eat properly. A better way to keep insulin levels stable is to eat moderate-protein, high-fat meals with minimal starches and sugars. This means avoiding grains and starchy vegetables, limiting fruits (heresy, I know), and emphasizing green vegetables.

  • very interesting.
    i’m adding in RSS Reader

  • Venkat Potlapalli

    My vote is for 2 or 3 meals a day depending on ones age. Anything more than that is strict no no, no matter what your age is. For a person over 60 yrs with not much of physical activity i recommend not more than two meal. To find the answer for yourself, study the eating habits of those who are 80 yrs or more.

  • holly chavez

    I’ve been eating small meals a day (dr recommended it) in a bid to lose weight and generally feel better. I’m also going to try <a href=" dragoncon
    “> Acetyl L-Carnitine and exercise to see if I can’t speed up the results. I think mixing it up with some things like juicing and cleansing may help, too.

  • holly chavez

    Delete that please. Sorry. Someone got my G+ and discqus info.