Dear Dr. Walt,
Is it really healthier to eat several smaller meals a day rather than three larger ones?
Starving in South Dakota
You’ve asked what turns out to be a very controversial question with experts, diet plans, and diet books falling on both sides.
On one side are the numerous studies reporting that metabolism, appetite, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar values may all benefit from a slow-and-steady influx of calories, rather than three big meals.
On the other side is the most recent and largest study to look at the question, and it reports that when it comes to weight loss, disease avoidance, and lifespan, you should be eating fewer meals—not more. “Even three meals might be too much,” Dr. Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute, told Time Magazine.
Dr. Longo says there’s “no question” your goal should be to eat fewer meals, and the reasons for this are myriad. For one thing, people almost always underestimate how many calories they are consuming. “If something’s 500 calories, people guess 250,” Longo said. “At the same time, life’s many distractions tend to confound our efforts to keep an eye on how much we’re putting in our mouths. Give yourself six or seven opportunities to eat throughout the day, and that’s six or seven occasions when you’re likely to overeat,” Longo says. As the American Heart Association tells us, “Overall, it is still the total calorie intake that determines someone’s body size.” They add, “Excess calorie intake, whether spread out over the day or consumed at one meal, will still contribute to weight gain.”
“But,” you might object, “Won’t I just end up overeating at mealtime if I stick to three meals?” Dr. Longo would say, “Yes, but not enough to make up for what you’ve skipped.” He points to a 2013
So what’s the ideal meal frequency? According to Dr. Longo, “For most adults, two meals and a snack is a good goal.”
To that end, I recommend the old “Royal Diet”: eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen, and supper like a pauper.
This Q&A was originally published in the July 2016 edition of Today’s Christian Living.
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2016. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.