Are Three Squares a Day the Only Healthy Way?
What is the healthiest eating pattern for you?
Three square meals is the eating pattern you’re taught from childhood. But is three really the ideal number of times you should eat every day? Not necessarily. In fact, for some people, eating five or six times a day keeps blood sugar more even and can help with weight control.
What Is a Mini Meal?
It is important to differentiate the mini meal from nutrient deficient, high carbohydrate, high fat snacks. A mini meal should be well balanced, containing fiber, protein, and small amounts of fat—the combination of which has been shown to be more satiating, leading to longer lasting hunger satisfaction. In contrast, people who snack on sweet, fatty foods consume more calories and have a higher likelihood to be overweight. For example, in a study of normal weight adults, one group instructed to eat an after dinner mini meal of cereal with low fat milk reduced their total intake of calories and lost nearly two pounds in four weeks. This was compared to very little weight loss in the control group who was told to eat their usual after dinner snacks. The researchers speculate that the more balanced mini meal of cereal and milk enabled participants to have better portion control and reduce intake of other higher calorie snacks.
A mini meal should consist of a wide variety of foods from several of the food groups (see chart). This also ensures an adequate intake of nutrients including vitamins and minerals.
|Suggested Mini Meals||Nutrients|
|6 oz low fat yogurt; ¼ cup raisins; 2 Tbs peanuts||Calcium, Iron, Protein, Vit E, Monounsaturated fats|
|½ whole wheat pita, 2 Tbs hummus, 1 slice roasted red pepper; 1 piece low fat string cheese||Fiber, Vit C, Calcium, Protein|
|1 Whole wheat English muffin, 2 oz canned tuna fish, 1 oz muenster cheese melted on top; ½ cup baby carrots with light dip||Fiber, Protein, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Calcium, Vit A|
Finding an Eating Pattern That Works For You
Everyone’s needs are different based on physiology and lifestyle. Finding an eating pattern that gives you the nutrients and energy you need is key to a healthy and active life. If you currently eat three meals a day but find you go into a mid-morning slump or mid-afternoon food delirium, smaller more frequent meals may be right for you. Or, if you find yourself constantly hungry and grazing throughout the day, three substantial meals with fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of good fat may be what you need. When deciding to try a new eating pattern, make sure to stay on the new schedule for at least two weeks to let your body adjust. It is also important that whatever schedule you choose that you try to maintain a consistent eating pattern. The successful members of the National Weight Loss Registry, which include those who have maintained an average weight loss of 15 pounds for over five years, report eating breakfast regularly and maintaining a consistent eating pattern on weekdays and weekends.
American Dietetic Association
United States Department of Agriculture
Berteus Forslund H, Torgerson JS, Sjostrom L, Lindroos AK. Snacking frequency in relation to energy intake and food choices in obese men and women compared to a reference population. Int J Obes. 2005;29(6):711-9.
Farshchi H, Taylor M, MacDonald I. Beneficial metabolic effects of regular meal frequency on dietary thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and fasting lipid profiles in healthy obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(1):16-24.
Waller SM, Vander Wal JS, Klurfeld DM, McBurney MI, Cho S, Bijlani S, Dhurandhar NV. Evening ready-to-eat cereal consumption contributes to weight management. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(4):316-21.
Wing RR and Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr . 2005;82(1): 222S-225S.
Last reviewed October 2005 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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