One of the most common questions that comes to our is mind is how often should we eat for good health. Traditionally , meal frequencies have varied across cultures, with two to three meals being common across the world. With the increased rates of obesity, heart disease , diabetes, hypertension and cancer in 20th century, body fat and the resulting weight gain were found to be the culprits. Countless diets and dietary fads have trended since the early 20th century. Health advisories have been provided to the public by health organizations, celebrities, gym trainers and pretty much everyone who has equated their personal experience with weight management as the ultimate truth. As a result during the late 20th century a myth began to be propagated that “smaller and frequent meals” are beneficial for weight loss and eating large portions of food is associated with the rising rates of obesity. This myth was widely circulated through media channels, TV shows and nutritionists alike. Like much of the health advisory on fats, carbs and proteins this notion did not stand the test of science. In the twenty first century, intermittent fasting has picked up with successful results and now is being seen by many as a panacea to weight loss. Questions are being raised if frequent meals were supposed to cause weight loss how are those who aren’t eating for more than 16 hours and upto 24 hours a day ,still losing weight and are able to perform their daily activities with ease and no lack of energy ? Here are top 4 myths on meal frequency that you need to stop believing right now :
Eating smaller and more frequent meals boosts your metabolism
Your body’s metabolism does not depend on how often you eat. The basis for this myth originated with a misunderstanding of the thermic effect of food. In my article on breakfast myths , an explanation was provided on the fact that the thermic effect of food constituted only 10% of the total energy expenditure when compared to the much larger contributors of Basal metabolic rate and physical activity. Your metabolic rate will not go up if you eat more frequently. The thermic effect of food depends on the total amount of energy consumed over the entire day in terms of their calorific value and not how they are consumed. That means whether you are having one 1800 kilocalorie meal or six 300 calorie meals it makes no difference to the thermic effect of food. What is consumed is far more important. Protein has the highest thermogenic effect among all the macronutrients, hence depending on your weight loss and health goals one may consider increasing protein uptake to optimal levels in order to get the maximum thermic effect of food. One should keep in mind the optimal protein intake is higher than the recommended daily allowance(RDA) of protein, the RDA being the minimum amount you must meet for healthy body functions and optimal protein intake being the amount of protein you need for maximum benefits.
Frequent meals are necessary to curb your hunger
Your hunger has little to do with the frequency of meals. In fact there is evidence to the contrary that hunger hormone ghrelin is lowered by lower meal frequency and the hormone responsible for signaling the brain that we are satiated, leptin increases due to lower meal frequency. The more meals you eat you will actually be more hungry. Patients suffering from type 2 diabetes are benefited further by lowering their meal frequency(three) than patients who took six meals both consuming the same amount of calories. As discussed previously, protein had the highest thermic effect of food. For the same protein intake in overweight and obese men, it was found that higher protein intake had maximum satiety when the meal frequencies were lowered. Hence to maximize the benefits of protein both in terms of satiety and thermic effect of food a lower meal frequency is advised.
Frequent eating is necessary to supply glucose to your brain
Glucose is the preferred source of fuel for the brain, the brain needs about 100 gm of glucose everyday for its healthy functioning. Hence, naturally it would make sense to keep feeding the body in order for the brain to function. However, what most nutritionists and health advisors do not tell you is your body is capable of producing 110-130 gms of glucose without a single morsel of food entering the body by a process known as gluconeogenesis . Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic pathway in which non carbohydrate substrates such as amino acids , fatty acids , glycerols are synthesised to glucose , which is why when we fast our brain functions normally. Besides gluconeogenesis, our body also utilizes ketone bodies generated when glycogen reserves are completely depleted. Hence meal frequency has no special effect on your brain.
Small low calorie meals are healthy for your body
Not only there is no special benefits to small low calorie meals in terms of total calorie intake, more meals you have more insulin your pancreas secretes. Insulin resistance is under debate and discussion as one of the causes of obesity, however what is not debatable is the fact that insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Previously, type 2 diabetes was associated only with body fatness. However, a worldwide study found that type 2 diabetes was fairly common among low BMI individuals in developing nations in Africa and Asia, thus challenging the conventional notion of body fatness and type 2 diabetes. Frequent eating, causes frequent insulin spikes making you insulin resistant. Being insulin sensitive is always a good idea if you want to prevent type 2 diabetes and among the many steps that can be take such as exercising and fasting lowering your meal frequency is the easiest option and combined with exercise and fasting can be beneficial in countering chronic diseases. During periods of no eating a cellular repair process known as autophagy sets in during which dysfunctional and wasted cells are eaten away and recycled in our bodies.
The key takeaway from this is the fact that if you value your health avoid frequent meals. For weight loss there is no difference in six small meals as opposed to one large meal , in fact being insulin sensitive and having proper functioning leptin and ghrelin is more always advantageous. There is more evidence to suggest that lower frequency of meals are beneficial in prevention of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. The benefits of intermittent fasting are manyfold and would require a separate topic, regardless of whether fasting is for you or not it is quite clear that smaller meals throughout the day has absolutely zero benefits for weight loss .