Having from five to six daily meals regularly is linked to a lower body mass index (BMI). This is stated in a study published in the journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, led by UB professors of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences Trinitat Cambras, professor of Physiology, and Maria Izquierdo, professor of Nutrition and Bromatology. The first signatory of the paper is María Fernanda Zerón, postdoctoral researcher in the Food and Nutrition Torribera Campus of the UB. Also, the study shows that a higher frequency of meals is related to a better functioning of the circadian clock and therefore, it could be considered in nutritional recommendations, both for the prevention of obesity and the alterations of the circadian system.
Impact in prevention of obesity
Over the last years, it has been proved that our meal times are an important synchronizer for our internal clock or circadian clock. A synchronizer is an external variable, which is rhythmic and can show the time to the circadian clock. Therefore, mealtimes modify the molecular clock of several tissues, showing whether it is day or night time. María Fernanda Zerón says that “the liver, pancreas and even the adipose tissue are ready to manage the nutrients of the diet during the day, which helps us to keep the balance of the energy and nutrients in the body”.
The paper expands previous results in these lines, suggesting not only the time for the meals but also its frequency and regularity have an impact on our internal clock functioning and therefore, on people’s health. In order to reach these results, researchers analysed the diet, sleeping and eating schedules and the body temperature and BMI of 260 people aged between twenty and thirty years old. Results show that the higher the frequency of meals is, the lower the body mass index. Does this mean we should eat very often? According to Trinitat Cambras, the answer is no: “Actually, —she says— results show that these five or six daily meals should take place every three or four hours, and within a daytime interval of less than fourteen hours”.
The researchers also saw that while the meal frequency increases, the calorie intake at night is lower. “Both having dinner too late or having too much for dinner, and skipping breakfast have been linked to the increased prevalence of metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. As night comes closer, our body gets ready to sleep, not to eat, that is, it gets ready to fast”, highlights Maria Izquierdo.
Meal frequency and the health of the circadian clock
The study also analyzed the relation between meal frequency and the health of the internal clock. To do so, researchers took as a reference the daily pattern of the peripheral temperature, a marker for the circadian clock rhythm. In this line, results revealed that the daily pattern for the peripheral temperature was more robust in those individuals that ate from five to six meals a day. This means a higher contrast of temperature between day and night, which shows a more pronounced circadian rhythm, that is, a healthier one.
Moreover, the fact that one may eat from five to six times per day was linked to a slight rise of temperature during noon, which is also a feature of healthy circadian rhythm. “In short, all those results suggest the frequency of meals could play an important role as a synchronizer for our internal clock. However, we need more studies to confirm these findings”, concludes Maria Izquierdo.
Zerón-Rugerio, M. F.; Díez-Noguera, A.; Izquierdo-Pulido, M., y Cambras, T. “Higher eating frequency is associated with lower adiposity and robust circadian rhythms: a cross-sectional study“. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2020, 23:nqaa282. Doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa282.