We’ve all been raised on the ideal of three square meals a day, but is this really the healthiest way to eat?
There are good reasons to eat smaller, but more frequent meals, including losing weight!
If you find yourself sneaking snacks because you get hungry a few hours after a meal, you may be better able to resist temptation by spreading your daily intake of calories over five or six smaller meals spaced out through the day.
Here are a few benefits from eating smaller, more frequent meals.
As we’re all reminded every Thanksgiving, eating an enormous meal makes you feel bloated and sleepy. That’s because your stomach needs time to digest the food, meaning when you eat a large meal, it will take longer to digest. When you eat smaller meals, your body can digest them more quickly, which will make you feel more energetic and less lazy.
While you might think that eating more meals each day would cause you to gain weight, actually the opposite is true. When you eat small amounts of food regularly during the day, your blood sugar level is more likely to maintain an even balance. This means you don’t get hungry as often, since low blood sugar can cause those hunger pains that send you running for the candy machine at work.
Nothing sabotages a diet like being hungry. You may start out on that low-cal regimen with the best of intentions, but when your stomach starts growling and you get ravenous, that’s when those good intentions go right out the window. Eating less at each meal but eating more frequently can keep those hunger pangs at bay, because you don’t get totally empty.
Another benefit of eating small but frequent meals is better regulation of your body’s insulin, one of the hormones that helps the body convert food into energy. Insulin also aids the body in storing that energy, and for the best use of it, you should eat something every three or four hours.
Increasing your metabolism is crucial to losing weight as well as having more energy. Eating several small meals spaced out over an entire day can keep your metabolism level high so that you’re constantly burning calories.
Eating frequent small meals can provide a steady flow of amino acids to the muscle cells. Since these amino acids are an important building block of protein, this can help to build and maintain muscle tissue.
Better use of vitamins and minerals
Eating more frequently makes your body work more efficiently at processing the vitamins and minerals in your food. Proper use of those vitamins and minerals can make a big difference in the way you feel.
Better management of illnesses
Since eating smaller but more frequent meals can stabilize your blood glucose level, this is a good way to help manage diabetes or hypoglycemia. Consuming mini-meals throughout the day can also aid in managing high cholesterol.
Now you know some of the benefits of adding more small meals into your daily plan so the next step is to keep reading to see how you can make these mini-meals work for you.
How to make mini-meals work for you
The trick to eating six small meals a day rather than three larger ones is to make each meal half as large but packed with nutrition. Start with a small but filling breakfast, have a healthy snack at mid-morning, cut the size of both lunch and dinner, then add a couple of snacks at mid-afternoon and in the evening. Your total calorie count for the day should be equal to or less than what you’ve been consuming over three larger meals.
What you don’t do is eat three big meals plus three fatty, sugary snacks! If you decide to try eating more frequent meals for reasons of health and/or weight loss, you need a plan. Stock up on foods that are low in calories, nutritious and are easily served in small portions.
Protein choices can include low-fat dairy products, lean meat or poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts and soy. Get your healthy fats from avocados, fish and vegetable oils. It’s important to get enough fiber so that you always feel full, so eat your share of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.
For breakfast, how about a cup of oatmeal and a glass of orange juice? Other mini-breakfasts could be an egg with toast and a banana or a smoothie made from fruit, yogurt and ice. Use your imagination, but do include enough protein to get you started in the morning.
Make your mid-morning snack a healthy one, like a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts. Edamame beans are crunchy and filling. Spice up carrot and celery sticks with yogurt dip. Hummus and whole-grain crackers are a tasty substitute for greasy potato chips. Keep non-processed snack items in your desk or briefcase for when the pre-lunch munchies strike. Pack enough for your mid-afternoon snack, too.
For lunch, pack a small sandwich or salad. Soups are fine if they’re low in calories, like lentil or vegetable. Cottage cheese with fruit or cold veggies is another protein-packed choice. Get creative with your leftovers. A small serving of pasta with marinara sauce makes a tasty lunch, but avoid cheesy sauces that are full of fat. How about crunchy peanut butter on fresh whole-grain bread? Leftover meat or poultry can be combined with wheat bread, lettuce and tomatoes for a satisfying sandwich. If you have to go out for lunch, choose a small veggie sub or side salad with low-cal dressing.
Hopefully, you won’t be too ravenous after noshing your way through the day, so dinner doesn’t have to be a big production. If you’re eating with your family, have what they have but in smaller portions.
If you hate cooking small amounts, brew up a pot of soup or veggie pasta sauce once a week and make several small meals. A pot of rice can be the base for several mini-meals, like broiled fish with steamed veggies, grilled chicken breast and a salad or a veggie stir fry. If you make too much of anything and are tempted to eat it all before it spoils, freeze it instead. Place portion-sized amounts in freezer baggies and pull one out whenever you need something fast. Plop it in a dish, microwave and there’s dinner!
There’s no guarantee that eating several small meals each day rather than three large ones will result in major weight loss. You have to make the right food choices and avoid using more frequent meals as an excuse to gorge on fatty foods. To feel full all day and keep your energy up, you need a diet rich in fiber and nutrients.
Substituting mini-meals and snacks for three larger meals won’t work for everyone, but if you’ve been fighting hunger pains during the day, this plan is definitely worth a try!
Written on 10/31/2013 by Linda Cauthen.
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