How often should we eat and why? We often hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day or that we should eat 3 regular meals a day, but is any of this true? Surely if we are consuming the same daily calories, what difference does it make when we eat? In fact, current evidence is showing that ‘when’ we eat may actually be as important to our health as ‘what’ we eat. Irregular eating patterns have been associated with poorer health, so eating regular meals could reduce your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Variety of nutrients – Eating just one or two larger meals may seem more convenient but you are likely to be limiting your nutritional intake. Eating nutritionally balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day will provide a greater variety of foods. There isn’t just one food that can provide all the nutrients your body needs. All foods contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in varying quantities. Therefore, the greater the variety of foods in your diet, the more likely you are to meet all of your nutritional needs.
Stable blood sugar – By choosing smaller meals, more frequently you will provide your body with a steady intake of carbohydrate to keep your energy levels up. Choosing slow release carbohydrates will maintain a steady blood sugar and prevent dips in energy levels, which can make you feel sluggish. Slow release carbohydrates also tend to be higher in fibre which absorbs water to keep you feeling fuller and your bowel movements regular. Examples of slow release carbohydrate are; brown rice, pearl barley, buckwheat, spaghetti, soya and linseed or wholegrain bread and new or sweet potatoes. Try adding these to your meals with a small amount of protein and plenty of vegetables to create a balanced meal.
Waistline – Allowing yourself to get too hungry can result in overeating and poorer food choices. You can prevent this by eating planned meals at regular intervals throughout the day. Protein takes longer to digest, so it can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Try to choose palm sized portions of lean protein such as; chicken and fish or tofu. If you fancy a change, try adding beans to your diet as they are high in protein but are also packed full of antioxidants.
Reduced health risks – Many of our bodies metabolic processes such as appetite, digestion and fat metabolism are influenced by our circadian rhythm or internal body clock. So eating at different times throughout the day can affect your food intake and the way your body functions. For example, skipping breakfast is associated with poorer food choices and obesity. By eating regular meals you can reduce your risks of more serious long term health problems such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Breakfast should contribute about 20-25% of your daily nutritional requirements. Aim for a balanced breakfast to supply vital nutrients, such as; fibre, vitamins and key minerals like calcium and iron. Try healthy options like wholegrain toast with egg and vegetables, porridge with fruits or low fat yoghurt with fresh fruit salad and muesli.
Mood – Research suggests that eating regular, nutritionally balanced meals can help to maintain a good mood and even help with depression. Your brain functions primarily on glucose and needs the right nutrients to keep it working at its best. Regular nutritionally balanced meals based around slow release carbohydrates will keep your blood glucose levels stable and help to maintain a good mood. Remember to stay well hydrated and drink regularly to help maintain your concentration throughout the day.
How often should we eat? – Aim to eat three nutritionally balanced meals; breakfast, lunch and dinner and top up your energy levels mid morning and mid afternoon with a small healthy snack. Whilst it’s commonly thought that snacking can lead to weight gain, studies have shown that regular healthy eating is associated with a slimmer waistline. So, try adopting a “little and often” approach and eat regularly every 3-4hours. Choose nutrient dense foods such as; fruits and vegetables, nuts or low fat yogurts and keep chocolate, sweets and biscuits to a minimum. Whilst it’s recommended to spread your energy intake throughout the day to maximise nutrition, energy and mood, keep an eye on your total energy consumption to prevent weight gain.
Could you make some positive changes to your eating routine? Give it a go and see if you notice any changes in your energy levels, waistline and mental focus. Good luck!