Should we consider having six meals a day?

A quick Google search will tell you  it can help weight loss, boost your metabolism and improved energy but what do the experts think?

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Let’s set the record straight: nutrition is very individualised and there’s no one size fits all approach. What works for you might not work for your mum, your partner, your friend or your dog. And that’s what makes the world of nutrition so intriguing.

Of course, consuming regular meals and having a few snacks throughout the day is the norm. That’s the way I work best most of the time, too.

A quick Google search will tell you to eat six meals a day for reasons ranging from weight loss, a better metabolism or improved energy. Of course, having an eating pattern like this can be beneficial to those with certain health conditions. For example, those with type 2 diabetes may be able to better manage blood sugars throughout the day by eating more regularly and in the right proportions.

But, aside from these conditions, what does the science say? While more research is needed, the current evidence base suggests that eating frequency may not actually impact weight loss or weight gain. Your metabolism mightn’t be consistently impacted by the number of times you eat, either.

We know being vegetarian is healthy, but it’s boring! We’ve found the solution and it’s called “Flexitarianism”.

Quality over quantity

What’s really important in terms of nutrition is quality over quantity. Ensuring that your diet is full of nourishing, wholesome ingredients is more important than worrying about meal timing or trying to stick to a particular number of meals in a day.

A good tool to use to model your eating pattern is the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. If you need a little help, here’s the basics:

Choose mostly wholefoods

We’re recommended to use ‘everyday’ foods as the basis of our diet, which means you should choose foods from the five food groups most of the time. A quick refresher: they are fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, protein and dairy or alternatives.

Also, a lot of processed and packaged foods should be limited, but not all. Take wholemeal bread, for example. A processed food that is very nutritious. Contrary to popular belief, or just carb-phobia, bread (particularly wholemeal) can be an integral part of a healthy balanced diet as it provides lasting energy, fibre for a healthy gut and some key micronutrients. Just be sure to steer clear of packaged and processed foods like chips, chocolate and biscuits most of the time.

Snack smart

Snacking is what usually bumps up our eating frequency, but note that having snacks between meals isn’t actually a bad thing!

While this is where most people tend to come undone (you know… like those regular 3pm trips to the office biscuit jar), I look at snacks as way to keep hunger pangs at bay and provide extra nourishment.

You might need to boost your calcium intake for the day or have an extra serve of veg, or just be feeling like something sweet – and wholesome foods like yoghurt, veg and fruit are all nourishing snack options that can satisfy these needs.

Other healthy options include air popped popcorn, wholegrain crackers with 100% nut butter or even a homemade smoothie with skim milk and frozen fruit.

And one last thing…

Be more mindful

It’s really important to tune into your hunger and satiety cues. Sure, you might’ve planned out a ‘perfect’ day of healthy eating (think oats, a kale and chicken salad, nuts and fruit) – but if you’re not hungry, there’s no point in following through.

Learn to listen to your body and check in with yourself to know if you really need that afternoon pick-me-up, or if you’re just eating out of habit.

So, what’s the bottom line? Enjoy a healthy, balanced diet and find the eating frequency that works best for you. To do so, you might need to seek advice from an accredited practising dietitian.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can follower her @honest_nutrition.

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