Reconsider eating five or six small meals throughout the day. Stop stockpiling your calories for dinnertime. Pump the brakes on intermittent fasting.
Those are the new recommendations coming out of the American Heart Association for people trying to maintain their weight and keep heart disease at bay. The organization is now saying when you eat is just as important as what you eat.
The scientific statement warns that current research on intermittent fasting and grazing on meals throughout the day don’t necessary provide the “best approach.”
“Eating patterns are increasingly varied. Typical breakfast, lunch and dinner meals are difficult to distinguish because skipping meals and snacking have become more prevalent. Such eating styles can have various effects on cardiometabolic health markers, namely obesity, lipid profile, insulin resistance, and blood pressure,” the position statement reads.
You may have been told time and time again that several meals throughout the day are your best bet, or that fasting may kick start your weight loss, but the AHA is second guessing these recommendations.
Take a hard look at your small meals
Some studies point to the merits of eating a few small meals per day. Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a nutritional medicine professor at Columbia University who took part in the statement, points to one study in which men who ate more than four times a day had a lower risk of obesity than their peers who ate three square meals.
On the other hand, other studies found the complete opposite: eating more frequently led to weight gain because people were overeating.
“There’s conflicting evidence about meal frequency. If you eat five to six meals, it’s hard to create a meal that’s so small that you aren’t overeating at each of the sessions,” said St-Onge.
The concern is that you may be dining on a handful of small meals, but how much are you really eating at each sitting? Portion control is what’s key to your meal-planning, whether it’s split into a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner or a handful of micro-meals.
Is fasting a safe long-term solution for you?
Intermittent fasting is another frontier in nutritional studies that scientists are focusing on. It calls for about 12 to 24 hours of skipping meals to rev up your metabolism and lose weight.
The AHA is warning that its experts aren’t sold on the idea.
“I can see scenarios where intermittent fasting can backfire,” Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, a Penn State University nutrition professor who helped with the report, said.
In studies, fasting every other day helped people lose weight in the short-term but the long-term repercussions haven’t been studied at all, the AHA said. There’s no promise this kind of eating routine can be sustained or lead to sabotage.
Kris-Etherton worried that fasting on one day could lead to binge-eating the next day. Breaking a fasting habit and getting back to eating routinely is difficult too, she said.
(Last year, Global News interviewed doctors specializing in studying in intermittent fasting. Dr. Krista Varady found that volunteers who fasted on alternate days only ate about 10 to 15 per cent more calories once they broke their day-long fasts. It was a slight increase, but the calorie reduction was still enough to see weight loss.)
Cut back on late-night dining
The scientific statement emphasizes the timing of meals. They echo what the medical community has been saying for decades: don’t eat dinner too late and hold back on late-night snacking.
Both of these vices do harm to your waistline and heart health. For starters, late-night meals and snacking tamper with your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm. Your body needs time to metabolize food, absorb nutrients and use your meal’s calories for fuel.
Research even suggests that the liver and other organs have their own clocks that affect your metabolism.
Allocate some calories for breakfast
And if you aren’t eating breakfast, get into the habit of having a morning meal. The AHA said there’s enough evidence to point to the benefits of breakfast: it provides energy and reduces appetite for the rest of the day and lowers the risk of high cholesterol and blood pressure. You’re more likely to make wiser meal choices when you’re filled up with a healthy breakfast.
Some studies suggest that breakfast-skippers are more likely to carry extra weight, have diabetes, or not get enough nutrients from their eating.
Stick to what’s good for you, in moderation
Finally, when you’re eating make sure you’re loading up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry and fish. As you’ve heard time and time again, cut back on red meats, salt and sugar, the statement said.
The researchers behind the position paper say that there’s too much pressure on people to follow “all or nothing” thinking. This only sets you up for failure. The researchers point to interviewees who admitted that when they’re presented with a pizza, they can’t just eat a slice. They have to eat the whole pie.
Try your hand at moderation.
“You don’t have to eat like there’s no tomorrow. Have a little pleasure today…and tomorrow,” Kris-Etherton said.
Read the full scientific statement published Monday in the journal Circulation.