When it comes to food it is very hard to know what to eat, what is healthy and what is good for you. It seems that every week there is a new health trend.
From chia seeds and detoxes of kale juice to all meat diets or no meat diets. Some people say eat more, some people say eat less. Are carbohydrates really bad for you?
One of these confusing trends is the idea of ‘grazing’. Eating small amounts often.
There have been numerous articles released suggesting that it is better for you to have up to six meals a day. However, there is little actual research and science behind this that we could find.
So, where did this little and often approach come from? And is it correct?
These claims are originally based on a small study by California State University where they took 11 obese woman and controlled there eating for a two week period. Half eating six meals in a day, the other half eating two larger meals over the period of the day.
There have since been other small experiments. However, the results have been inconclusive on many fronts and then interpreted by various people.
In fact in the study, the woman all lost around the same amount of weight with both diets.
What did the research involve?
The researchers recruited 15 adult women who were obese but not diabetic. They randomly assigned them to eat a reduced-calorie diet as either two or six meals a day over two weeks. They then had a two-week break before switching to the other meal pattern.
The researchers measured various blood markers and the women's body compositions during the different parts of the study.
In each part of the study, the food products were the same and delivered to participants in pre-packaged portions. The meals gave about 1,200 calories per day.
During the break, the participants ate four times a day (three meals and a snack). Fluid consumption was not strictly controlled during the trial.
The Test Results
Overall, the women lost weight during the study and reduced their body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, fat mass and percentage of body fat. Their calorie intake reduced from an average of 2,207 calories a day to 1,200 calories.
Women lost similar amounts of weight after the two meals a day period (2.7% loss) and the six meals a day period (2.0% loss). When the women ate two meals a day, they lost more fat-free mass i.e. muscle, (3.3% loss) than when they ate six meals a day (1.2% gain).
The researchers did not find any difference between fat mass loss, resting metabolic rate, or the levels of insulin, glucose or most fats in the blood when the women were on the different meal frequencies.
"Good" cholesterol (HDL, or high-density lipoprotein) levels increased more when the women were eating two meals a day (1.3% increase) than when they were eating six meals a day (0.12% increase).
The one definite conclusion that can be drawn from the study is that restricting calorie intake will help you lose weight. Other than this though the sample size was too small and the test period too short to make definitive conclusions.
One interesting thing the study did suggest – but which such a small sample size it is a suggestion rather than law – is that those who ate little and often lost less muscle mass. Meaning that the weight they lost, which was equal to the others, was more fat than.
Quick thoughts on Snacking
Snacking means you never get extremely hungry, so you don’t find yourself falling into the trap of making poor food choices that are high in fat when you start getting hungry and craving certain foods.
Unfortunately snacking also works in the opposite way. People who do snack throughout the day often snack on ‘easy’ bites. Things like: crisps, nuts, popcorn. These are all high in fat and not particularly nutritionally beneficial.
If you are going to snack make sure you plan in advance and have healthy nutritional snacks.
To draw a conclusion
We can’t say for certain whether eating little and often is better or worse. However, we can say that if you are wanting to lose weight, there are things you can do.
Firstly, reduce calorie intake.
Secondly, make sure all your meals are high quality nutritionally balanced meals.
Eat a good breakfast: Don’t be scared of fat – it can boost feelings of satiety and help to balance mood and hunger hormones. A green juice alone won’t suffice – eat a couple of poached or boiled eggs for a rounded meal.
Think protein & fat: Make an effort to include fat, protein and plants at every meal – the combination of lean protein, healthy fats and fibre will squash sweet cravings.
Go sugar-free: There is natural sugar in lots of healthy foods, you don’t need to top that up with snacks. The worst sugary culprit is fizzy drinks and fruit juices. Whilst they are delicious they are full of sugar that you don’t need. Cutting back on sugar is a sure-fire way to ease cravings for sweet snacks over time. A great place to start is making your breakfast sugar free. Look to the likes of eggs, avocado and salmon.
And finally plan: planning your meals in advance is immensely important as it stops you from making bad food choices.