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berta83 posted a topic in Vote ArticlesI think, this question has been discussed million of times, but there are a lot of opinions: mostly it is widely accepted that people have 3 meals a day, but many specialists advice to have a meal 4,5 or even 6 times a day. For an average man this is quite confusing and one cannot understand which scheme is correct. I think it would be great to have a short, easy to understand article explaining different schemes and (if possible) advising the best one.
When we eat at regular intervals, our body is discouraged from storing calories. This statement is up for debate and there are certain factors we must take into account when considering the above. In order to answer this question, we must look at our basal metabolic rate or BMR. BMR is the amount of energy released by our body when it is at rest. A high BMR means we can eat more food without getting fat. Exercise also plays a part in increasing our body’s BMR. However, there is no clear answer as to how often we should eat during a day. In a nutshell, eating several small meals a day is tied to the amount of energy our body needs to spend and not the quantity of mealtimes. Mealtimes in the western population are rapidly shifting towards a less structured pattern. With the rise in ready made meals and fast food chains, people have quick and easy access to food. Therefore, they are able to eat food at their own convenience, at any time or place. According to a study conducted on the subject, researchers have discovered that lacking consistency when it comes to eating may have negative effects on insulin. An irregular eating pattern was linked to a decrease in what is known as thermic effect of food (TEF). This means that the body burns calories at a slow rate. It also leads to high concentrations of insulin in the blood. TEF triggers a signal in the brain indicating that the body is full and is no longer hungry. It is low in people who do not have fixed meal times, so an increase in their body weight occurs as a result. Free and multiple access VS. restricted access meals Eating meals on irregular basis and lacking consistency is a potentially serious novel environmental risk factor. This risk factor can lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome which includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and cholesterol. Stress is also a factor that should be taken into consideration. High levels of stress are capable of changing a person’s eating pattern and encouraging the consumption of tasty, highly palatable foods. In addition, there is rising evidence that irregular eating patterns can have negative effects on a person’s metabolism, especially in the absence of regular exercise. This adds credibility to the theory that highlights the advantages of staying consistent when it comes to eating several meals a day. Eating three meals per day, in addition to snacks, is the most common eating pattern in modern societies. However, this is considered abnormal from an evolutionary point of view. Studies conducted on animal models and human subjects indicate that regular fasting which lasts up to sixteen hours can improve health and help combat diseases. It also encourages the body to shield from and repair damage on a cellular level. However the data on intermittent fasting is yet sparse and all the mechanisms are not fully known. It means that to achieve the positive health outcomes fasting should be properly controlled for every individual. Until substantial research is done it is not recommended to include intermittent fasting as a part of weekly eating regime. Mice who were subjected to alternate day fasting diet while keeping the overall food intake unchanged remained the same weight-wise. This intermittent fasting generated positive outcomes that surpassed those of the calorie restriction diet. These included low blood sugar and insulin levels in addition to better resistance of brain neurons to damage and death. A similar study also showed that mice who were subjected to time restricted feeding (TRF) received the same calories from their high food diet as those who were free to eat whenever they chose to. Time restricted feeding means being fed within a specific window of time. The mice in the time restricted feeding group had protection against obesity and excessive insulin levels in the blood. They were also shielded from fatty liver when fat accumulates in the liver, leading to inflammation and liver failure. The TRF diet is mainly used as a non-pharmacological method to fight obesity and other diseases. Hunger and Satiety When it comes to hunger and satiety, multiple studies have shown that more frequent meals per day may contribute to better appetite control. While another review article agrees with it, the authors also report that eating 3 meals per day is associated with insignificantly lower calories intake when compared to more frequent meals. Low frequency diet could be used for some specific groups of people requiring hypoenergetic (low energy) diet. It was found that eating breakfast and lunch is more effective than eating six smaller portions in low energy diets for type-2 diabetes patients. The question of timing is also very important when it comes to eating. This question has prompted researchers to look into the correlation of eating breakfast and evening meals to the total calories intake. They have shown that satiating morning meals and smaller evening meals reduce the daily calories intake and help people lose weight. Physical Exercise is Essential In the absence of physical activity, eating multiple meals may not lead to better appetite control. It also does not change the body’s composition in a positive manner, especially in non-active people. Adequate protein levels may help athletic people in maintaining their lean body mass if they increase their number of meals. More meals than fewer have a positive effect on different blood markers of health such as LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol as well as insulin. It also helps decrease hunger and improve appetite control. A small number of studies whose participants were athletes showed that increased meal frequency had many benefits. Firstly, it prevents the body from losing lean body mass during a low energy diet. Secondly, it leads to a significant increase in lean body mass and anaerobic power. Thirdly, it helps people get rid of fat. Conclusion Dividing meals into smaller portions leads to better satiety and allows for better caloric control. However, there are no other proven health benefits linked to this eating pattern. It is thought that the total caloric intake, meal time and the regularity pattern of food intake are important rather than the number of meals per day. Still for some groups of people frequent small meals are beneficial, e.g. for sportsmen it helps to increase the lean body mass and power. So this is the quantity of food and regularity pattern that actually matters the most.  Parks, E., & McCrory, M. (2005). When to eat and how often?. Am J Clin Nutr, 81(1), 3-4. 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