To Eat or not to Eat — that is the question

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Around 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 is, 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 have been an explosion of diet books, different groups & 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 to a component of good health.

Some studies have suggested that smaller, frequent meals improve the feeling of fullness, leads to better metabolism and body fat composition, reduces dips in energy, stabilizes blood sugar levels and prevents over eating.

One study looked at the link between meal frequency and chronic disease and suggesting increased meal frequency throughout the day improved blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides, along with reduced 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 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 to eat more natural food. The only diet that has have been researched over a long period of time (a variety of studies up to ten years) with proven science, is the Mediterranean diet which is nothing magical but involves having two or three pieces of fruit per day, 3 to 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.

This diet has been shown over the many years it has been studied to reduce most chronic illnesses somewhere between 30 to 50%.

All of the diets studied demonstrating varying degrees of weight loss, variable effects on blood fat levels and blood sugar but none have shown any significant morbidity and mortality data such as reduction in heart attack, stroke or all cause death, apart from the Mediterranean diet.

When I examine all of the debates around whether we should be eating three meals a day, six meals a day, high fat, low fat, high carb, low carb, it puts my head into a spin because I believe we are climbing the ladder to success to be on the wrong wall.

The right wall is to eat less food, eat more natural food, maintain a good intake of fruit and vegetables and avoid white death which is sugar, white bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, along with not eating processed foods.

Having a good balanced and healthy eating pattern is one of the five keys to healthy living only surpassed by a regular exercise habit and happiness.

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Dr Ross Walker

Dr Walker is an expert in the field of preventative cardiology and has published seven books. He gives lectures nationally and internationally.