Is it better to eat several small meals or fewer larger ones?

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Many of us may have heard that eating several small meals daily can help improve metabolism and achieve optimal health. However, evidence to support this claim is mixed. In this Honest Nutrition feature, we take an in-depth look at the current research behind meal frequency and discuss the benefits of small frequent meals compared with fewer, larger ones.

This series of Special Features takes an in-depth look at the science behind some of the most debated nutrition-related topics, weighing in on the facts and debunking the myths.

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It is widely accepted in modern culture that people should divide their daily diet into three large meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — for optimal health. This belief primarily stems from culture and early epidemiological studiesTrusted Source.

In recent years, however, experts have begun to change their perspective, suggesting that eating smaller, more frequent meals may be best for preventing chronic disease and weight loss. As a result, more people are changing their eating patterns in favor of eating several small meals throughout the day.

Those who advocate for eating small, frequent meals suggest that this eating pattern can:

While a few studies support these recommendations, others show no significant benefit. In fact, some research suggests it may be more beneficial to stick with three larger meals.

Early epidemiological studiesTrusted Source suggest that increased meal frequency can improve blood lipid (fats) levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. As a result, many experts advise against eating fewer, larger meals a day.

Over the years, some studies have supported these findings, suggesting that people who report eating small, frequent meals have better cholesterol levels than those who consume fewer than three meals per day.

In particular, one 2019 cross-sectional studyTrusted Source that compared eating fewer than three meals per day or more than four meals per day found that consuming more than four meals increases HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and lowers fasting triglycerides more effectively. Higher levels of HDL are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

This study observed no differences in total cholesterol or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

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