Many diets, weight loss "experts", nutritionists and dietitians promote eating smaller meals every 2 to 3 hours, but eating frequently throughout the day may not be any better than three square meals a day when it comes to beating hunger, according to a new study in Obesity.
"You hear a lot in the lay press claiming that mini meals were better, but there was no scientific evidence to support these claims," says study researcher Heather J. Leidy, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri in Columbia. "We are not saying three meals a day is the best, but mini meals are not any more beneficial at controlling appetite," says Leidy.
3 Meals vs. 6 Meals
Twenty seven overweight or obese men were placed on a reduced-calorie diet in which either 14% or 25% of the calories came from lean protein for 12 weeks. Eggs and lean pork were among the main sources of protein in the diets.
The men were asked to eat the same diet as three meals or six meals a day for three days starting at week seven, and then they switched to the other eating pattern for three more days.
Men recorded their feelings of hunger or satiety every hour that they were awake during the three- or six-meal-a-day portion of the study using an electronic device.
Men who ate low-calorie, high-protein diets felt more satisfied and less hungry than those eating a low-calorie, normal protein diet, the new study showed.
Those men who ate six mini meals a day showed no improvement in appetite control or perceived fullness compared to those who ate three meals a day.
The findings are likely applicable to overweight or obese women, Leidy says.
"Eating more frequently is not the best diet strategy to combat obesity," she says.
Smaller More Frequent Meals may be Better for Some People
No One-Size-Fits All Strategy Regarding Meal Frequency and Number of Meals Eaten Daily
The three meals in this study were calorie controlled, which is what helps weight loss, according to Jeff Behar, MS, MBA, Nutrition and Healthauthor , personal trainer and CEO www.MyBestHealthPortal.net, www.MuscleMagFitness.com.
"No one size fits all when it comes to dieting, weight loss and hunger," according to Jeff Behar. "People's metabolism works different, and different people have different needs. For example, athletes and diabetics might benefit from better blood sugar control by using the smaller more frequent meal approach."
"One way to move to less meals and still control blood sugar levels, and satiety (fullness) levels is to include fiber, lean protein and low glycemic carbohydrates in each meal," adds Behar.
"The bottom line? I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer and each person should evaluate their own specific needs and body type," says Behar.
Behar promotes a combination of lean protein such as chicken breast, turkey breast, fish; fibrous vegetables and other sources of fiber at every meal. "Meals consisting of a combination of lean protein and fiber will help keep you feeling full longer because lean protein and fibertake the longer time to digest," Behar says. "Lean protein and fiber also keep blood sugar levels stabilized and prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels that can lead to increased hunger, bingeing, energy drops and/or making poor food choices at mealtimes and throughout the day."
The National Pork Board and the American Egg Board funded the new study.
Leidy, H. Obesity, 2011; vol 16: pp 818-824.