Just remember the dietary recommendations that were made a few years ago to understand why there are still enough people who have the guideline engraved in favor of the five or six meals a day. A guideline that used to be justified by the argument of “accelerating metabolism” or “avoiding entering energy-saving mode”. And that, for obvious reasons, the food industry really liked it.
On the other hand, new trends and dietary fads related to evolutionary or paleo approaches and intermittent fasting practices are precisely inclined towards the opposite strategy, reducing the number of meals.
Just a few days ago a new systematic review on the subject has been published, so let’s know its results, to know in which direction the most recent evidence is accumulating.
The study is titled “Impact of Meal Frequency on Anthropometric Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials” (2020) and analyses the results of 22 intervention trials lasting two weeks or more, in which the effect of isocaloric diets has been compared but with a different number of intakes, in various indicators: weight, waist contour , body fat and energy intake.
The authors summarize with the following texts and graphs the results obtained for each of the parameters:
There is no certainty (for low certainty of evidence) of whether 1 meal a day or 2 meals a day reduces body weight compared to ≥ 8 meals daily. In addition, our results suggest that 2 meals a day are likely to reduce body weight compared to 3 or 6 meals daily. No effects were observed when comparing 3, 4 or 6 meals daily with ≥ 8 meals daily.
2 meals a day is likely to improve waist circumference compared to 6 meals a day. No differences were detected when comparing 3 vs 6 meals daily.
1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 meals daily were no more effective at reducing body fat compared to ≥ 8 meals daily. There is no certainty whether 1 meal a day is more effective than 3 meals a day (for low certainty of the evidence).
No significant differences were observed when comparing different meal frequencies in energy intake (very low certainty of evidence).
In addition, in the analysis of effects in people with varying degrees of overweight, the authors concluded that in patients with obesity (BMI>30), both 1 and 2 meals daily were slightly more effective than 6 meals daily to reduce body weight. In overweight patients (BMI 25 to 30), no differences were observed between different food frequencies.
And these were his final conclusions:
“(…) our findings indicate that there is little solid evidence that a reduced frequency of meals is an effective strategy for improving anthropometric outcomes. No significant effects were observed for energy intake. The evidence currently available is low certainty and does not support current recommendations to increase the frequency of meals.”
In short, that there is no evidence that recommending more daily meals and that of leaning towards some strategy in this regard, perhaps we should do the opposite, reduce them. Although also in that case the evidence is quite loose.
Let’s see if it turns out you’re going to have to eat when you’re hungry.