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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Which is healthier: eating little bits throughout the day or eating three meals a day?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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December 07, 2012
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A:

The number of meals you have in a day does not determine the healthful qualities of a diet. The makeup of the diet, especially the total number of calories and the types of fats you eat, is what matters most.

There are several circumstances where I’d recommend eating smaller amounts — five or six times a day. For instance:

  • Some people are very sensitive to swings in their blood sugar. They feel better when they avoid simple carbohydrates. Instead, they should eat smaller quantities of a mix of whole grain foods, some protein and mono- or unsaturated fats.
  • People with esophageal (acid) reflux also may benefit by eating less at each sitting. Also, they should decrease their fat intake because fat stays in the stomach longer than carbohydrates and protein.
  • People who have had stomach surgery, such as stomach stapling for weight loss, need to eat smaller meals. They also should eat less fat to avoid bloating and indigestion.

For most people, eating more frequently during the day runs the risk of taking in too many calories. But as long as you keep this in check, you can choose what most comfortably fits your lifestyle.

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