One of my clients recently asked me if I think it’s better to eat six small meals a day or the more traditional fare of three larger meals. Some may ask: Why would anyone want to eat six meals a day?
The idea comes from the world of body building where it’s believed that a positive nitrogen balance is the key to muscle growth. And, that the way to maintain a positive nitrogen balance is make sure you get sufficient protein, along with carbohydrates, at frequent intervals throughout the day.
In a recent study researchers found that people who eat more meals per day have a higher incidence of colon cancer. At the University of North Carolina, researchers studied six hundred thirty-six participants with colon cancer and 1,048 control participants. Eating frequency was categorized as fewer than three, three or four, or more than four meals a day.
The researchers found that the effect of eating frequency on colon cancer differed by sex. The male participants in the lowest eating frequency group had approximately half the risk of colon cancer compared with the middle and highest group. And, there were no significant associations for women. So eating three meals a day was associated with a lower risk of colon cancer for men but not for women.
Let’s take a look at these results in the context of our evolutionary past. Paleolithic men did most of the hunting and ate once or twice a day. So men may not adapted for frequent meals. And since women did the gathering, they had a greater opportunity to eat more frequently. So it follows that women may be adapted for more frequent meals, hence no increased risk for colon cancer, as reported in the study.
One more point on this is that our Paleolithic ancestors often went without food for the entire day when there was no game to be found. So our bodies evolved with intermittent fasts, which allow the colon to rest from constant digesting, and are purported to have numerous health and longevity benefits.
More on this to come….