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Dietitians Dish: How many meals should we eat per day?

Oct. 12, 2010 at 5:12 a.m.

Linda Crisp

By Linda Crisp

A friend recently asked me if it made any difference that she only eats one meal per day. She has had success losing weight with only one meal per day, and is frankly nervous about adding back in her morning and noon meals for fear of gaining weight.

Well, my friend is not alone. Lots of people skip meals for one reason or another.

Some people are just not hungry in the morning, or they're too busy getting everyone else off to school and work to eat their own meal.

Some people skip lunch when they are overloaded with responsibilities at work, or like my friend, are watching their waistline.

The evening meal is usually the one that most people don't skip, but it might be a very small meal if a large meal was eaten at noon.

The best meal pattern is really a personal choice and may vary according to individual needs. However, it's worth examining your meal pattern choices to see if they are really the best for your health.

If you have a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistance, it is important for you to include healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruit and milk or yogurt in a meal pattern that distributes the carbohydrates more-or-less evenly throughout the day in three meals. This meal pattern, called "consistent carbohydrates," along with prescribed medications, allows the blood sugar to be maintained in a normal range.

For those who don't have diabetes, skipping meals may be a question of adequacy of nutritional intake. It's almost impossible to eat an adequate amount of dietary fiber in only one meal per day.

Let me explain. According to the USDA dietary guidelines for Americans, the goal for fiber intake for adults in the U.S. is 21 to 38 grams of dietary fiber per day. This consists of two cups of fruit, 2 cups of vegetables and 3 or more servings of whole grains daily.

I challenge any of us to achieve this volume of food intake at one meal per day, and get the recommended dairy and protein intake as well. That's one hefty meal.

In fact, most American adults eat only 14 to 17 grams of dietary fiber per day.

Of course the way most of us achieve the calorie requirements for our daily activities - and sometimes above our daily requirements, as evidenced by increasing obesity statistics - is by eating excess amounts of fat, sugar and protein at our one meal per day. So, we think we are eating too much, when we are actually not eating enough of the foods our bodies really need.

Change is hard and eating patterns are not easy to change, but the benefits of eating regular meals may surprise you.

Linda Crisp is a registered and licensed dietitian who is a board certified specialist in oncology nutrition. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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