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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BHNRC) » Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center » Food Components and Health Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #200159

Title: A Controlled Trial of Reduced Meal Frequency without Caloric Restriction in Healthy, Normal Weight Middle-Aged Men and Women

item Stote, Kim
item Baer, David
item Rumpler, William

Submitted to: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/4/2006
Publication Date: 4/1/2007
Citation: Stote, K.S., Baer, D.J., Spears, K., Paul, D.R., Rumpler, W.V., Strycula, P., Najjar, S.S., Ferrucci, L., Ingram, D.K., Longo, D.L., Mattson, M.P. 2007. A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal weight middle-aged men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 85:981-988.

Interpretive Summary: Although three meals per day support rapid growth in children, it may not be the healthiest eating pattern for adults. The rising obesity epidemic usually occurs among individuals consuming several large meals per day. Overeating is widely accepted as a cause of premature death from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but few studies have determined how meal frequency affects health risk. Despite a general perception among the public that it is important to eat three or more meals per day, there have been no controlled research studies that directly compare the effects of different meal frequencies on human health. A pilot study was conducted to determine the feasibility of controlled meal frequency in normal weight, middle-aged men and women. Participants consumed all of their required calories either in one meal per day or three meals per day for eight weeks. Results showed that the majority of the study participants were able to consume total calories in one meal per day. Consumption of one meal per day versus three meals per day increased the participants' blood pressure but had no effect on heart rate, body temperature and the majority of blood tests measured. Scientists and nutritionists interested in the effects of eating patterns that may influence health may find this information useful.

Technical Abstract: Background: Although consumption of three meals per day is the most common pattern of eating in industrialized countries, a scientific rationale for this meal frequency in regards to optimal health is lacking. A reduced meal frequency diet can improve health and extend lifespan of laboratory animals, but its effect on humans has never been tested. Objective: A pilot study was conducted to establish the effects of a reduced meal frequency diet, without an overall decrease in energy intake, on a range of health indicators in normal weight healthy male and female subjects. Design: The study was a randomized cross-over design, with 2 eight-week treatment periods. During the 8 week treatment periods, subjects consumed all of their calories for weight maintenance distributed in either 3 meals/d (control diet) or 1 meal/d (experimental diet). Results: Subjects who completed the study maintained their body weight within 2 kg of their initial weight throughout the 6 month period. There were no significant effects of meal frequency on heart rate, body temperature and the majority of blood variables measured. However, when on 1 meal/d, subjects exhibited: a significant increase in hunger; a significant modification of body composition with reductions of fat mass; significant increases in blood pressure and levels of total and LDL and HDL cholesterol; and significant decreases in levels of triacylglycerol and cortisol. Conclusions: Normal weight subjects are able to comply with a 1 meal/d diet. When meal frequency is decreased without a decrease in overall calorie intake, there are modest changes in body composition, some cardiovascular risk factors, and hematological variables; some of the changes are suggestive of poorer health, while others are suggestive of improved health.