Food & Drink

Which is better for you: 3 squares or mini meals?

It’s a popular notion that eating smaller, more frequent meals, such as six small meals a day, is a healthier approach than the traditional three square meals a day.

Some people believe eating more frequently may help keep their hunger under better control and their metabolism revved up.

But some experts are concerned that the more often you eat, the greater your opportunity to overeat.

The majority of studies available suggest that eating more often than three times a day provides minimal, if any, advantage in controlling appetite or how much you eat, although eating fewer than three times a day could make it tougher to control your appetite.

Most studies also show that eating more often than three times a day doesn’t improve weight loss success, nor does it boost metabolism.

So how did the positive buzz about small, frequent meals begin?

Hollie Raynor, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said the research was mostly observational, which means it can’t show cause and effect.

“Plus, there were issues of under-reporting by overweight and obese individuals, who reported eating less frequently than they really did,” Raynor said.

If you’re keeping your weight in check with three meals a day and prefer to eat this way, stick with it.

However, if you are ravenous at mealtime if you skip snacks, you may need to tweak how often you eat and/or the types of foods you’re eating.

Follow these guidelines:

▪ Balance eating frequency with amount.

The more often you eat, the less you should eat at a time.

“For example, if someone is following a 1,200-calorie weight loss diet and eating six times a day, that may mean only 200 calories per eating occasion,” Raynor said.

Such a small lunch or dinner could leave you feeling unsatisfied.

▪ Make it nutritious.

Pass up high-sugar, quick pick-me-ups and processed foods, which are easy to overeat. Choose nutrient-rich, fiber-packed foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts, and include a good source of protein, such as beans, dairy or meat to improve feeling full.

▪ Plan ahead.

Avoid mindless nibbling all day long, and carry healthful snack options with you when you’re on the go.

Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by nutrition experts: