Illustration: Stephanie Birdsong
Nope! It's a myth. A research review published in 2014 in the journal Advances in Nutrition found no proof that meal frequency plays a significant role in weight management. Why might that be? For one thing, most people underestimate the calories they consume. So if you’re not keeping close tabs, those multiple mini-meals can easily jack up your daily calorie count. Worse yet, a University of Missouri study found that overweight women who consumed six mini-meals a day had higher blood fat levels than those who consumed the same total calories from an old-school regimen of three meals. One possible explanation is an increased intake of nutritionally empty packaged snacks such as pretzels and chips in contrast to more wholesome meals. What about the extra calorie burn from continual noshing? While our bodies may expend energy to process foods during digestion, frequent nibbling isn’t likely to stoke metabolism in any meaningful way. When British scientists fed volunteers either two larger or five smaller meals totaling the same daily calorie count, they found that regardless, the volunteers burned virtually the same number of calories over a 24-hour period. Regular exercise will do much more to kick-start your metabolism than frequent eating could ever achieve. That said, judicious snacking could help some people avoid becoming overly hungry and, in turn, overeating come mealtime. Bottom Line: A healthy weight is much more about how many total calories you consume and the quality of those calories than how often you eat during the day. Snack Smart Make eating between meals work for, not against you. Stay mindful. A Yale University study found that adults were more likely to overindulge in snacking when parked in front of the TV and exposed to food advertising. Scarfing down food while watching your favorite sitcom or surfing the Web distracts you from noticing the amount you’re eating and registering fullness cues. Power up with protein. Research shows that higher-protein snacks are more satiating, which could help keep overall calorie intake in check. Plain Greek yogurt, edamame, nut butters, and hemp seeds can add a protein punch to snack time. Keep it real. Snacks can help you nail your daily quota for vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber—but you need to reach for wholesome options such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. How about you? What are your tricks for smarter snacking?