HOW MANY MEALS SHOULD YOU EAT EACH DAY?

It’s the age-old question that many ask, but is there really a single right answer to how frequent you should eat? Take a closer look and explore your options.


BY: WENDY LOPEZ, MS, RD, CDE & JESSICA JONES, MS, RD, CDE

How often should I eat?

When should I eat?

What are the worst times to eat?

These age-old questions are a hot topic for many researchers, so you may have heard many conflicting suggestions that often leads to more confusion (and more questions).

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Should I be snacking in between meals? Should I eat 6 small meals a day instead of 3?

To answer these questions on whether having the “correct” meal frequency truly makes a difference in our health, we need to take a closer look at where these concepts come from.

The argument has been made about eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, which helps increase metabolism. Eating these smaller meals has also been linked with decreased hunger, and improved lipid and insulin levels.

However, before you switch up your whole routine, you should know that while there’s research favoring these smaller, more frequent meals, there’s also research that links grazing with poorer diet quality. As much confusion as there is about the topic, newer research has shown that eating 6 smaller meals vs. 3 larger meals doesn’t really matter when it comes to health and metabolism.   

So which route should you take?

It ultimately boils down to preference, logistics, and for some people, medical history. Let’s take a closer look.

Small & Frequent

There are a number of situations where small and frequent may be the right fit for you. Perhaps you’re always on the run because of work, school, or anything else that’s going on in your life. You can’t realistically sit down to enjoy 3 solid meals per day, so you graze throughout the day, eating smaller and more frequently.

It may also be a matter of preference if you don’t have a huge appetite at 3 set times during the day. It may also be a medical issue; for example, if you have gastritis or reflux, having smaller, more frequent meals can help alleviate gastric discomfort.

3 Solid Meals

You may be the type of person who has a huge appetite at 3 set times during the day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If that is the case, it makes eating 3 satisfying, larger meals more preferential for you. This may also go along with the logistics of your day; for example, the type of work you do may not allow you to graze throughout the day because you have specific times set aside just for eating. That’s why this model of meal frequency would probably work best for you.

Taking medical conditions into consideration, if you have insulin-dependent diabetes, it’s important to have specific meal times set aside to eat a consistent amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins at each meal.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong as there’s research that favors both sides of the equation.

It’s more about listening to your body to best determine which method works for you. This may mean listening to your internal hunger cues, and only eating when you’re hungry.  Other times, it may just depend on your schedule. If you know you’re working late and need to eat a larger lunch with more fats and protein to keep you full until you can eat again, then that works too!

It all boils down to eating balanced meals for your own personal needs, where you don’t find yourself either too hungry or too full.  This may look like six small meals per day for you, or it may mean three larger, balanced meals.

Whatever that is for you, just listen to what your body needs.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: ALEX LOUP

Wendy Lopez, MS, RD, CDE and Jessica Jones, MS, RD, CDE are the founders of the popular food blog Food Heaven Made Easy. As Registered Dietitians and certified diabetes educators, they started Food Heaven as a creative outlet for two friends with a passion for spreading the word about delicious, nutritious living that’s cost-effective and simple. Learn more about Wendy and Jessica at Food Heaven Made Easy.

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