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Small meals or big meals: What is healthier:?

Meal frequency is tied to your health. That’s why there is always a debate on small frequent meals and fewer, larger ones. Let us tell you if eating several small meals is healthier than three big meals.

When it comes to food and health, the focus is usually more on what is on your plate rather than how frequently you eat. If you think about meal frequency, most people believe in eating three big meals in a day. But now, the idea of having several small meals is also getting a huge fan following. It is believed that eating five to six times a day is better for health than going for fewer larger meals. Those who believe in eating frequent mini-meals think this habit can help in weight loss and support heart health. So, should you eat several small meals instead of three big meals for the sake of your health?

Why eat several small meals?

Eating several small meals involves consuming several smaller portions of food throughout the day instead of the traditional three large meals, says dietician Ekta Singhwal. This typically means eating five to six times a day, with meals spaced every 2 to 3 hours. Eating frequently can improve blood lipid (fats) levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, according to a research published in the Nutrients journal in 2019.

A woman eating small meals instead of bigger ones
Frequent small meals may help diabetics. Image courtesy: Freepik

Frequent small meals may also help maintain steady blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of spikes and crashes, which is especially beneficial for people with diabetes, says the expert. Eating more often can prevent extreme hunger, making it easier to control portion sizes and avoid overeating. Some people also opt for smaller meals, as they can improve digestion and nutrient absorption. Basically, the digestive system is not overwhelmed by large quantities of food at once.

Eating three big meals

The concept of eating three big meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — is based on a structured approach to eating that aligns with traditional daily schedules. This pattern provides larger, spaced-out meals that are meant to keep you full until the next meal. Larger meals can provide a greater sense of fullness, potentially reducing the temptation to snack on unhealthy foods, says the expert. A predictable meal schedule can help regulate the body’s internal clock, supporting better digestion and overall health.

Several small meals or fewer bigger ones?

If we go by scientific evidence, less frequent eating has been shown to improve satiety. It also reduces hunger compared to more frequent meals, according to a 2012 study published in Plos One. Also, the popular belief that frequent small meals can aid in weight loss is not backed by science. Increasing frequency of meals does not promote greater weight loss, as per a 2010 study published in The British Journal of Nutrition.

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Woman eating several small meals instead of big meals
Best eating pattern depends on multiple factors. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

When it comes to the best eating pattern, it depends on individual preferences, health conditions, and lifestyle, says Singhwal. Small frequent meals can benefit those needing stable blood sugar levels and consistent energy, while fewer bigger meals might suit individuals who prefer larger portions and structured eating times.

There are a few things to keep in mind while eating several small meals:

  • Individuals prone to overeating or those who find it challenging to manage portion sizes might struggle with frequent meals, as it could lead to increased calorie intake.
  • Those with specific digestive issues may find frequent eating exacerbates symptoms.

As for the three big meals, keep these points in mind:

  • People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, might find large meals cause significant blood sugar fluctuations.
  • Those who experience gastrointestinal discomfort or have issues with indigestion may also benefit from smaller, more frequent meals to reduce symptoms.

Eating several small meals and having big meals have their own advantages. Both the patterns can be healthy if balanced with nutrient-rich foods and mindful eating practices.

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