Myths of Meal Frequency

Eating smaller meals more often doesn't have the health benefits many believe
By Kris Gunnars, authoritynutrition.com
June 5, 2018 7:00 am Last Updated: June 5, 2018 7:10 am

There is a lot of confusing advice about the “optimal” meal frequency.

According to many experts, eating breakfast jump starts fat burning and having five to six small meals per day prevent your metabolism from slowing down.

But studies actually show mixed results, and it is not clear that more frequent meals help you lose weight.

This article explores how many meals you should be eating and discusses the general health relevance of meal frequency.

Do More Frequent Meals Increase Metabolic Rate?

Metabolic rate is the number of calories your body burns within a given time period.

The idea that eating more frequent, smaller meals increases metabolic rate is a persistent myth.

It is true that digesting a meal raises metabolism slightly, and this phenomenon is known as the thermic effect of food. However, it is the total amount of food consumed that determines the amount of energy expended during digestion.

Eating three meals of 800 calories will cause the same thermic effect as eating six meals of 400 calories. There is no difference.

Multiple studies have compared eating many smaller meals versus fewer larger meals and concluded that there is no significant effect on either metabolic rate or the total amount of fat loss.

Eating more frequently does not increase your overall metabolic rate, or the numbers of calories you burn over the day.

Does Eating More Frequently Balance Blood Sugar Levels and Reduce Cravings?

One argument I see a lot is that people should eat often to balance blood sugar levels.

Eating big meals is thought to lead to rapid highs and lows in blood sugar, while eating smaller and more frequent meals should stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day.

This, however, is not supported by science. Studies show that people who eat fewer, larger meals have lower blood glucose levels, on average.

They may have bigger spikes in blood sugar, but overall their levels are much lower. This is especially important for people with blood sugar issues since having high blood sugar can cause all sorts of problems.

Less frequent eating has also been shown to improve satiety and reduce hunger compared to more frequent meals.

When it comes to blood sugar control, breakfast also seems to play a role. Studies show that eating the largest meal of the day in the morning, or early in the day, lowers average daily blood sugar levels.

Kris Gunnars is a nutrition researcher with a bachelor’s degree in medicine. This evidence-based nutrition article from the experts at Authority Nutrition was originally published on Healthline.