How many meals should we eat a day has increasingly become a very common question especially for those trying to eat healthier and to us people who are trying to lose some weight.
It may sound as such a simple question but there are always a bunch of different answers. We spoke to dietitian, nutritionist and spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Isabel Maples about how many meals one should be eating a day and she said “one size does not fit all” when it comes to meals.
Maples said some people do best with three meals a day. Others may find that eating six times a day works better. Both eating patterns have pluses and minuses.
“A meal is an eating occasion that combines at least three food groups, including a protein source (like eggs, fish, dried beans, lentils, milk, cheese, yoghurt, and tofu). A snack is a one or two food groups (like an apple or peanut butter crackers).
"Often, snacking is more indulgent in the type of food chosen. The traditional eating pattern of three meals a day offers a consistent structure for refuelling our bodies throughout the day.
"Regularly spaced meal intervals can help keep blood sugars stable and hunger at bay, so we are less tempted to snack on impulse. That’s important for weight management”, she said.
She added on by saying busy lifestyles sometimes make it easier to do better on four to six eating occasions a day.
“Those meals and mini-meals can fuel someone who finds it hard to sit down and eat three meals a day, especially if their schedule is unpredictable day to day or if they are an athlete who needs more calories and/or works out more than once a day. Choosing foods mostly from the five food groups can still fuel well and provide key nutrients.
"A downfall of eating so often is that it’s easy to grab-n-go all the time, without any structure or planning in meal choices. Even mini-meals can be more structured, so that food choices better meet your nutrition and calorie goals. Plan these smaller eating occasions by squirrelling away snacks at the office or, when on the go, carrying nutrient rich foods like fresh fruit, nuts, or whole grain cereal in a bag.
"At the convenience store, choose peanuts, pistachios or popcorn. Consider yoghurt, string cheese, a fruit and yoghurt parfait or a salad”, said Maples.
She said one big pitfall of eating so many times a day is “eating amnesia” in which one underestimates how much food has been consumed, which can mean too many calories.
And another pitfall is grabbing easy to eat food but not choosing the variety of all five food groups.