3 Larger Meals Better Than 6 Smaller
Eating three large meals per day might be the healthiest choice for people struggling with their weight, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri and published in the journal Obesity.
With obesity rates having doubled worldwide since 1980 and still on the rise, health researchers are continually searching for ways to help people keep or regain healthier weights. Obesity is strongly linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, various types of cancer, and early death, and has also been implicated in an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. More than one-third of all people in the United States are now classified as obese.
Yet, much popular dietary advice - even that promoted by health professionals - has not necessarily been scientifically tested for accuracy, or for its applicability to people who are already obese.
"The mass media and many health care practitioners often advocate eating several small meals throughout the day," lead author Tim Heden said. "However, when we examined the literature, we didn't find many studies examining or supporting this popular claim. This lack of research led to our study, which is one of the first to examine how meal frequency affects insulin and blood-fat levels in obese women during an entire day of eating."
Fewer meals mean less fat, lower disease risk
The researchers observed eight obese women on two separate days. On one visit, the women were assigned to consume 1,500 calories over the course of 12-hours in the form of three 500-calorie liquid meals. On the other visit, they were assigned to consume six 250-calorie meals instead. On both visits, the researchers monitored each woman's blood sugar and fat levels every 30 minutes. They found that women's blood fat levels were significantly lower when they consumed three meals rather than six.
The findings might help craft new dietary recommendations geared specifically at obese women, Heden said.
"Our data suggests that, for obese women, eating fewer, bigger meals may be more advantageous metabolically compared to eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day," Heden said. "Eating larger meals less often lowered blood-fat levels. Over time, consistently eating fewer, larger meals each day could lower the women's blood-fat levels and thereby lower their risk of developing heart disease."
Although the study's findings still need to be replicated and confirmed for their applicability to real-world situations, co-author Jill Kanaley noted that there are sound logical reasons that eating several small meals might be unwise even without specific physiological effects.
"With multiple meals throughout the day, you have to be careful," Kanaley said. "If you start consuming several meals, there's more potential to overeat or to make unhealthy snack choices with easily accessible junk food."
"Some people are good at making efforts to eat healthy snacks; however, most people aren't, and they end up taking in too many calories. The more times you sit down to eat, the more calories you're probably going to take in."
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