15 August 2022
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To Eat or Not to Eat – that is the question

Dr Ross Walker
2 August 2022

About 20 years ago, I wrote a book titled 'Diets don't Work'. I made the point that you go on a diet like you go on holiday. What happens when you go on a holiday? You come home! What happens when you go on a diet, typically after a month or two, you go back to your old eating habits.

The only way to maintain a healthy eating habit is to do just that and to make it a lifelong commitment. But, over the past few decades, there has been an explosion of diet books, different groups and authors arguing that their particular dietary approach is the only effective diet etc. etc. 

One of the common debates is also whether it is better to consume small, frequent meals or to have less frequent, larger meals as a component of good health.

Some studies have suggested that smaller, frequent meals improve the feeling of fullness, lead to better metabolism and body fat composition, reduces dips in energy, stabilise blood sugar levels and prevent overeating. 

One study looked at the link between meal frequency and chronic disease and suggested increased meal frequency throughout the day improved blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides, along with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. It also showed that more than four meals per day improved the so-called good cholesterol-HDL and reduced triglyceride levels.

A study from the high impact factor journal Circulation demonstrated that increasing meal frequency led to less diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But, there has been conflicting evidence around this topic. One study divided the participants into two groups. The first group had three meals per day whereas the second group consumed six small meals per day but with the same total caloric intake throughout the day. This diet included 30% fat, 55% carbohydrate and 15% protein. This study showed no difference in body fat loss but those who consumed six meals per day had greater hunger and a stronger desire to eat.

A large observational trial showed that healthy adults prevented weight gain by reducing their eating frequency, not snacking and having the largest meal in the morning. The key to the study was to maintain daily time-restricted eating with a longer fast of more than 16 hours. But, it does appear that people who increase their meal frequency tend to consume better quality food.

Personally, I find all of this information very confusing and the reality is the key to healthy eating is to eat less food and eat more natural food. The only diet that has been researched over a long period of time (a variety of studies up to 10 years) with proven science, is the Mediterranean diet which is nothing magical but involves having two or three pieces of fruit per day, 3-5 servings of vegetables per day and typically the major meal being lunchtime, not dinner. The diet also involves avoiding all forms of processed packaged food with small amounts of meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts and olive oil.


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