Meal frequency and its effect on health is a hotly debated topic. Read up on what the latest evidence has to say.

If you are trying to lose weight, you may be wondering how often you should eat throughout the day to get the best results. It is a hot topic these days, and there is no shortage of conflicting advice. Many insist on three square meals a day, while others argue that spreading out smaller meals more frequently is the key. Should we be concerned with where we fall on the spectrum? The evidence is not clear. We know that how often we eat can have an impact on our ability to lose weight, but the experts are mixed regarding how. While there is no consensus quite yet, it is still worth paying attention to the rationale behind why each plan is advised and how changing up the way we eat can reap other important health benefits.

The case for many meals

Some believe that eating many small, frequent meals every two to three hours instead of fewer larger meals can help us lose weight. The theory goes that eating more frequently offers us more chances to consume healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It will also help us control our calorie consumption by keeping us full and preventing the cyclical feeling of hunger, a cue that sometimes leads to poor food choices. Finally, when we stay satiated, we avoid the discomfort of feeling stuffed as a result of overeating, and we provide ourselves the fuel we need to keep energized throughout the day. This is especially applicable for athletes.

The reasons for fewer meals

What about fewer meals, such as three meals a day or less? Proponents of this eating plan claim it is easier to plan fewer healthy meals each day rather than many, you run the risk of consuming more calories the more frequently you eat, and careless snacking can lead to unhealthy calories. Also, for some, frequent eating does not effectively control hunger, which can still lead to overeating during meals. Lastly, maintaining steady energy throughout the day may not be necessary if you are not a high-intensity athlete.

What does the science say about how often you should eat for weight loss?

For now, it is hard to tell. Some studies show a decrease in weight as the number of meals eaten increases, but other studies contradict them by finding that those who ate more than three meals in a day gained weight. The relationship between meal frequency and weight management is not yet clear, and more research is needed to settle the debate.

Does eating more often improve blood sugar?

The evidence is more straightforward when it comes to how eating patterns affect blood sugar. People with diabetes can experience an elevation in blood sugar due to a diminished production of insulin. A recent study, however, found that when nine meals were eaten during the day instead of three, insulin secretion improved which led to lower blood sugar levels. This suggests that eating smaller meals more often may reduce and stabilize blood sugar.

Frequent meals may also benefit your heart

We know that the quality of our food has a major impact on our risk of cardiovascular disease, but does it matter how often we consume it? Experts believe so. One study revealed lower cholesterol when multiple small meals were eaten during the day when compared to eating three normal meals, and blood pressure was improved when three meals a day were eaten instead of one large meal.

The bottom line

Þ   Find what works for you. Smaller, frequent meals may reduce our risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but experts do not yet agree on how often we should eat to lose weight. So until the evidence is clear, evaluate how your body responds and stick to what works best for you.

Þ   Plan your eating wisely. Remember that carefully planning your daily meals and snacks to control caloric intake and portion size may have a bigger influence on whether you can successfully maintain a healthy weight over the long run.