The belief has circulated for years in our society: it says that, contrary to what common sense seems to indicate, eat many times a day (five or more) is more effective to lose weight – or at least not to gain weight – than to do it three or fewer times a day.
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This claim is supported by several alleged reasons. One of the most important states that, in theory, putting the digestive system into operation more often speeds up the metabolism and therefore increases the thermogenesis, the process through which the body burns calories. That is what would help to better control body weight.
It has also been ensured that eating frequently prevents them from occurring big ups and downs in blood sugar levelsTherefore, the benefits of this practice would also reach the insulin and cholesterol levels. To that conclusion a study published more than three decades ago by scientists in Canada.
In addition, eating more times reduces the time between each meal and the next. Consequently, it reduces the risk of suffering from this feeling of ravenous hunger which – in addition to putting you in a bad mood – often leads to snacking between meals (almost always unhealthy products) or bingeing on the next meal.
Body mass index and circadian rhythm
A study published in October last year by scientists at the University of Barcelona concluded that eating five or more times per day is associated with a lower body mass index and lower levels of adiposity.
Furthermore, this work argues that eating more frequently also strengthens the circadian rhythm (the internal clock that regulates the body’s day and night activities), which favors metabolism, the functioning of different organs and glands and healthy sleep.
The latter is related to the fact that eating more frequently does not mean eat at any time: the five or six meals should be distributed over a day time of about 14 or 15 hours.
Otherwise, the effect is the opposite: eat at irregular hours (even if only during the weekend) stimulates overweight and obesity. This, by the way, is one of the several reasons why sleeping at different times every day is discouraged, a temptation that increased especially in times of confinement.
Data that refutes the widespread belief
However, things are not so linear. In recent times, many scientific and specialist works have come to question and deny the idea that eating more often is always better than eating a few times each day.
Other study, which analyzed data from 18,700 adults in the United States over almost a decade – published in 2015 – found that a higher frequency of meals was associated with higher rates of overweight and abdominal obesity.
Five years before, another investigation had concluded that more frequent meals (more than three per day) “Has minimal impact, if any“on appetite control and food intake.
For its part, International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) also explained that increasing the frequency of meals does not favor body composition in sedentary populations. That is to say, by itself it does not serve to lose weight.
In the same document, the US-based organization pointed out that eating more times per day also “does not appear to significantly improve diet-induced thermogenesis, total energy expenditure or resting metabolic rate.”
A diet adapted to each person
How, then, are these apparent contradictions explained? In part, because they exist other variables that also come into play, some of which are much more relevant than the number of daily meals eaten. In particular, the diet quality: the type of food that compose it.
“The key is that the food you follow throughout the day is of quality and is adapted to your needs and objectives, always accompanied by a healthy lifestyle “, explains nutritionist Ana Sánchez Morillas, responsible for the website Diet Step.
In any case, what does not exist is a number of meals that is valid and appropriate for everyone. The specialist points out that a greater amount of daily meals may be adequate for “people with a very active metabolism, athletes or even for those who suffer from stress or anxiety.”
For the latter, a higher frequency in the intakes can allow them to “go to the next meal with less appetite and get a better choice of food“, adds Sánchez Morillas. In fact, the aforementioned ISSN report accepts that a greater quantity of meals” seems to help reduce hunger and improve appetite control. ”
More than the number of meals, the quantity and quality of what is eaten
Ultimately, what really matters is not so much how many times you eat per day, but the quantity and quality of what is consumed. This must respond to the energy and nutritional requirements of each person, emphasizes the expert, and in many cases the three traditional meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are sufficient.
Even breakfast should adapt to individual needs. There are those who “as soon as they get up they need to fill their energy stores,” says Sánchez Morillas, while others need a few hours to pass before they can eat some food.
“Y either option is valid“, says the nutritionist, because” delaying breakfast is not a problem, since it is just another meal. The important thing is to have a healthy and adequate breakfast, regardless of what time it is done. ”
A study of 2013, in effect, showed that “skip breakfast it can be an effective means of reducing daily energy intake for some adults. “Contrary to popular belief,” skipping “a meal does not necessarily imply energy compensation at subsequent meals.
In short, the key lies in personalizing the nutrition regimen and, in particular, finding the right most appropriate number of meals for each person. In addition, of course, to always prioritize the healthiest options.
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