time your meals

Does it matter how you time your meals? Nutrition experts often urge obese people with diabetes to eat six small meals evenly spaced throughout the day. The idea is that this pattern will even out blood sugar and reduce food cravings. A new study challenges that conventional wisdom.

How to Time Your Meals for Better Health:

Israeli researchers randomly assigned 29 obese patients with type 2 diabetes treated with insulin to follow one of two different weight loss diets. Both diets contained the same number of calories in a day, but they were distributed differently. One group ate six small meals spaced throughout the day, as doctors often recommend. The other group got just three meals a day: a large breakfast, a medium-sized lunch and a small supper.

How Does a Big Breakfast Affect Health?

People on the three-meal plan lowered fasting glucose levels 54 mg/dl. That was more than twice as much as those on the six-meal plan. Their glucose levels only dropped 23 mg/dl.

Overall, mean glucose levels dropped far more after three months on the three-meal plan, and people lost an average of 11 pounds. Those on the six-meal plan gained about 3 pounds, even though they ate the same number of calories as those in the other group.

In addition, the big-breakfast group had a lower average insulin requirement after three months. People in the six-meal group increased the amount of insulin they needed. Less insulin needed implies better blood sugar control. It seems that how you time your meals really makes a significant difference for blood sugar control.

Some of the blood sugar changes were apparent even before weight loss kicked in, as early as two weeks into the study. The scientists conclude that meal timing and frequency is as important as weight loss in blood sugar control.

Endocrine Society Annual Meeting, Chicago, March 17, 2018

How Should You Time Your Meals?

To learn more about this topic, you may be interested in our interview with Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge of Columbia University Medical Center. It is Show 1094: Does It Matter When You Eat?

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  1. Deloris

    After I retired, I began eating only two meals per day — a balanced breakfast and a satisfying early dinner. The excess weight has been coming off slowly, and my blood sugar has decreased, getting me out of the prediabetes zone almost effortlessly. I still eat some sweets, like dark chocolate and an occasional dessert, and would probably do even better if I didn’t indulge. I also avoid refined carbohydrates and deep-fried foods.

  2. Roy

    The numbers for the two groups are quite impressive; however, the patient population was small (n = 29), so I wondered about the statistical significance. Looking at the abtract itself, the variances for the numbers quoted did have large +/- values.

  3. Cathy
    Bastrop, Tx

    I have suffered for years with hypoglycemia. I have changed one habit that has helped immensely. I practice intermittent fasting, as I eat my first meal of the day 14 to 16 hours after my last bite of food the day before. I read that this helps the body control blood sugar and reduces swings. It has. I started slowly at 12 hours and worked my way up to 16. I can eat fruit now and oatmeal. Those would have caused a huge problem for me before the fasting.

  4. "Patrice"
    Raleigh NC

    The sample size in this study is so tiny that we can’t conclude anything significant from the results. There were 29 subjects who were randomly assigned to two groups. Note that these findings were presented at an annual meeting, and it’s not clear if the results were published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.

  5. Polly

    Please suggest good breakfast meal plans for those who have limited time in the morning, e.g. work, school, etc. Thank you!

  6. Jude V
    Atlanta, GA

    I don’t have diabetes, but I am overweight. However, I find it extremely difficult to eat anything first thing in the morning, and often I will not eat until after midday, even though I get up early (usually around 530-630 a.m.). Even the smell of food that early turns me off. Since I don’t eat breakfast, I usually only eat twice a day, and I follow the Paleo AIP diet, since I have autoimmune challenges. This means that I’m usually not hungry between those two meals either. If this led to weight loss, that would be great! However, so far it has not, even though I exercise and recently have been working physically hard in my garden.

    Working in my garden is another reason not to eat until after I finish that work. If I eat anything, then have to bend over (like in the garden to plant, weed, shovel compost, etc.) I get reflux. As long as I haven’t eaten anything (just drink water), I’m fine bending over.

    Since I turn 72 next week and am NOT on ANY medications, just supplements, I hardly think I need to change my dietary habits. Plus, I don’t eat any prepared food, only fresh and natural ingredients that I prepare myself, including tons of veggies. I would love, however, to know how I can lose weight, since it seems to me I’m really not eating enough to maintain the weight that I have (5’2″ and 160 lbs).

    Anyway, keep up the good work you guys. The articles and health headlines are great and very valuable to us all!

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