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Eating patterns

Snacking shows no metabolic benefit for obese women

Researchers claim eating fewer, bigger meals may be more advantageous metabolically

Research from the University of Missouri has reported that that all-day snacking might not be as beneficial as previously thought, especially for obese women. The study, published in the journal Obesity, examined how meal frequency affected blood-sugar and blood-fat levels and concluded that obese women would benefit from consuming three balanced meals a day.

"Our data suggests that, for obese women, eating fewer, bigger meals may be more advantageous metabolically compared to eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day," said the study's lead author, Tim Heden, a doctoral student in MU's Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. "Eating larger meals less often lowered blood-fat levels. Over time, consistently eating fewer, larger meals each day could lower the women's blood-fat levels and thereby lower their risk of developing heart disease."

The aim of the study was to compare postprandial lipemia, oxidative stress, antioxidant activity, and insulinemia between a three and six isocaloric high-carbohydrate meal frequency pattern in obese women.

Heden and colleagues researchers recruited eight obese women who completed two, 12 hour conditions in which they consumed 1,500 calories (14% protein, 21% fat, and 65% carbohydrate) either as three 500 calorie liquid meals every four hours or six 250 calorie liquid meals every two hours. Blood samples were taken every 30 min and analysed for triacylglycerol (TAG), total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, oxidized low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, myeloperoxidase, paraoxonase-1 activity, and insulin.

The outcomes showed that the amount of TAG which was absorbed into the blood was significantly lower in patients who were eating three meals a day (321±129mg/dl, 12 hours) than with patients who were eating six meals a day (481±155mg/dl, 12 hours).

It also showed that the amount of insulin in three-meal patients (5,549 ± 1,007pmol/l, 12 hours) was significantly higher (p=0.05) compared with six-meal patients (4,230±757 pmol/l, 12 hours).

However, the frequency of the meals had no effect on the other variables measured.

The results demonstrated the frequency with which meals are eaten during the day alters postprandial TAG and insulin concentrations but has no effect on postprandial cholesterol, oxidative stress, or antioxidant activity in obese women.

“Our study is one of the first to examine how meal frequency affects insulin and blood-fat levels in obese women during an entire day of eating,” said Heden. “This research could help nutritionists and medical professionals develop strategies to improve the health of obese women.”

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