It is often advised to eat several small meals at regular intervals in order to keep your metabolism running, which would lead to burning more calories. This, in turn, particularly pleases those who want to lose weight. Is it true that frequent small meals are necessary? Does eating small meals help you lose weight?
Is it Beneficial for Metabolism
Frequent small meals are supposed to stimulate the metabolism, reduce feelings of hunger, regulate the glucose and insulin levels as well as speed up weight loss. Therefore, eating several small meals a day is a popular part of many weight loss diets. The frequent food thus represents a compensation for the calorie deficit employed by the diet.
But does this procedure really help to lose weight? And what does it look like from a health perspective? Does eating a lot of small meals have any health benefits compared to eating just two or three meals a day?
When talking about a few meals a day, we mean two to three meals a day. When we speak of several small meals per day, it’s clearly meant more than three meals per day, which are also smaller in size. In some studies, 12 or even 14 small meals per day were used to monitor their influence on the metabolism.
Number of Meals is Irrelevant
In a meta-analysis carried out at the end of the 1990s on the subject of the frequency of daily meals, there was hardly any difference in the metabolic activity, whether it was eating small meals several times a day or eating a few large meals. Most of the studies analyzed in this meta-analysis came to a neutral result, which means that it does not matter how often you eat now. The energy consumption is more important.
Almost twenty years later, in 2009, a review was published again, in which over a hundred studies were analyzed. They all had devoted themselves to find the connection between eating frequency and weight loss. Unfortunately, these were mostly studies with only a short time frame, in which the physical activity was often not considered. All in all, these scientists discovered that there is no connection between the frequent eating of small meals and a weight loss. Also, no health benefits could be noticed while eating more frequent small meals.
Another conclusion was that several small meals compared to a few large meals were not good for blood glucose level in the long run.
Researchers from the University of Missouri discovered in 2011 that several small meals a day kept the blood glucose high, while insulin and ghrelin levels were kept lower in the case of several meals a day. Ghrelin is a hormone that signals hunger when the stomach is empty.
Less Hunger With a Few Large Meals
Researchers at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands wrote about their study between two groups of men (one has 3 larger meals a day, the other 14 small meals per day): In the group, which consisted of only 3 meals, positive effects on the blood glucose level were observed (but not in the other group). As the 3-meal group found the “diet” easier to manage, researchers suggest this meal plan as the norm.
In four different intervention studies from 1991, 1993, 2008 and 2010, there was also no difference in metabolic activity when the subjects took several small meals, and also, no higher weight loss was observable at the end of the study period.
Not Even Fasting Periods Reduce Metabolic Activity
It’s said that one must keep the metabolism running like the fire burning. From this point of view, a fasting cure, or even intermittent fasting (only 2 large meals a day and no food between 6 PM and 11 AM next day), would result in a metabolic slow down.
A 36-hour fasting, for example, greatly increases the metabolic activity. An identical increase in metabolic activity takes place after 72 hours of fasting, which has been known since 1994, according to a study by the University of Nottingham with 29 adults.
A variant of intermittent fasting is to eat every other day (twice a day so much until you are full) and the other second day nothing at all. In this case, as well, no decrease in the metabolic rate could be observed after 22 days – as could be read in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005.
As there is a great deal of fasting around the world, especially due to religious reasons, numerous studies are taking place during Ramadan (the fasting month of the Muslims). Here too, no differences in the metabolic activity between fasting and non-fasting could be found.
Movement is More Important
In epidemiological studies, however, it becomes clear that overweight people often consume only a few meals a day, while slender people likely to prefer several small meals. However, there are indications that this relationship is only for men, not for women. Also, there’s a link between these results and physical activity, so that the lower BMI can be attributed to the sports, not frequent meals.
Interestingly, especially for those who want to lose weight, the thermal effect of the food, IE the energy that the body has to expend to digest the food, is always important. This effect seems to decrease when you do not have regular eating times, ex. you eat 5 times, then again 2 times, then 14 times. The organism, therefore, loves a certain regularity, no matter how you shape it – and it is best to lose weight if you always eat or not eat at the same time and always keep the same number of meals.
Overall, however, it has been shown that rarer meals per day (2 to 3) are more sensible and healthier for metabolism, weight, blood glucose levels, blood fat level.
How many meals do you eat per day? Does this information surprise you?
Let me know what you think in the comments below.