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Best Diet Plan: 6 Mini Meals or 3 Squares a Day?

Study Suggests 6 Small Meals per Day Won’t Help Reduce Hunger Pangs
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 31, 2011--Eating small meals frequently throughout the day may not help take the bite out of your hunger while you are dieting, according to a new study.

Many diets and dietitians promote such mini meals, but they may not be any better than three square meals a day when it comes to feeling full and satisfied, according to a new study in Obesity.

“You hear a lot in the lay press claiming that mini meals were better, but there was no scientific evidence to support these claims,” says study researcher Heather J. Leidy, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Leidy was getting her PhD at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., when the study was conducted.  “We are not saying three meals a day is the best, but mini meals are not any more beneficial at controlling appetite,” she says.

3 Meals vs. 6

Twenty-seven overweight or obese men were placed on a reduced-calorie diet in which either 25% or 14% of the calories came from lean protein for 12 weeks. Men were asked to eat the same diet as three meals or six meals a day for three days starting at week seven, and then they switched to the other eating pattern for three more days.

Men recorded their feelings of hunger or satiety every hour that they were awake during the three- or six-meal-a-day portion of the study using an electronic device.

Men who ate low-calorie, high-protein diets felt more satisfied and less hungry than those eating a low-calorie, normal protein diet, the new study showed.

Those men who ate six mini meals a day showed no improvement in appetite control or perceived fullness compared to those who ate three meals a day.

The findings are likely applicable to overweight or obese women, Leidy says. Some people such as athletes, recreational runners, and people with diabetes or prediabetes, however, may benefit from eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, she says.

“But eating more frequently is not the best diet strategy to combat obesity,” she says.

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