Are you still stuck in the three-meals-a-day mindset? You’re not alone. Many people hold the the misconception that eating anything beyond their allotted three meals per day constitutes a failure of dietary willpower. But while it’s true that eating empty-calorie snack foods between meals is no recipe for health, limiting yourself to the traditional breakfast-lunch-dinner feeding format may not be doing you any favours, either.
A new study has revealed that eating at least six times a day could be the secret to beating heart disease, showing that half a dozen meals or snacks daily can slash the risk of dying from clogged arteries by more than 30 per cent, compared to three or four meals a day.
And, crucially, the dangers appear to subside even if overall daily energy intake exceeds recommended levels of 2,500 calories for men and 2,000 for women.
The findings could force a rethink on eating habits.Health experts have long advised patients to stick to a regular three-meals-a-day routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner and to minimise snacking on sugary, fatty foods in between.
But the latest study, published in the Annals of Epidemiology, suggests this may be making heart health worse. Scientists behind the research think the body is better able to metabolise small amounts of energy at a time.
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Large meals spaced wide apart are more likely to overload the metabolic system, triggering the perfect conditions for type two diabetes and larger fat deposits – key risk factors for heart disease.
Instead, regular nibbling could be good for heart health.
Researchers, however, warned a six-meals-a-day diet is only good if it is rich in fruit and vegetables and low in junk food. The study by Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore University looked at nearly 7,000 adults, following them up for over 14 years.
The results showed almost 30 per cent sat down to food at least six times a day. At the other extreme, 4 per cent insisted they ate only once or twice daily.
The frequent-eaters consumed more calories overall during the day, although their average intake at each ‘sitting’ was lower. They also tended to prefer healthier food.
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Dietitian Tracy Parker, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Following a healthy diet, by eating regular and balanced meals that are rich in fruits and vegetables, pulses, wholegrains and fish, can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease.”
Eating smaller, more frequent meals is a great way to increase your opportunities to meet nutritional gaps in your daily diet. Mini meals that incorporate whole-grain foods, colorful vegetables and fruit, lean fish or poultry, low-fat dairy, and unsaturated fats not only will help to stabilise your blood sugar levels but also could help reduce your risk of several diseases, from heart disease and hypertension to diabetes and certain cancers.
How many meals do you have in a day?