Eating Smaller Meals More Frequently Can Lower Cholesterol

Eating a regular number of “micro-meals” throughout the day rather than one or two large meals can lead to dramatic improvements in cholesterol levels as well as aiding weight loss according to recent research.

One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1992, involved surveying the eating habits of 2034 men and women from Rancho Bernardo, California. The participants were asked about the number of meals and/or snacks they normally ate per day. 9% of participants ate 1-2 meals per day, 72% ate 3 meals per day, and the remaining 19% ate 4 or more meals per day.

The researchers found that those who ate 4 or meals per day had total cholesterol levels that were 3.9% lower than those eating 1-2 meals per day. Furthermore, LDL cholesterol levels were 4.7% lower while HDL cholesterol levels were only marginally decreased, resulting in an improvement in the HDL/LDL ratio.

Those who ate the most meals per day also had slightly lower waist to hip ratios and BMI levels than infrequent eaters despite eating 28% more saturated fat and consuming 18% more calories than infrequent eaters.

The researchers concluded that “cholesterol reductions might be achieved by modest increases in meal frequency without an increase in caloric intake.”

A second study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared the effects of a typical 3 meal per day diet with a 17 meal per day “nibbling” diet. The study involved seven men who were assigned to each diet for a two week period.

The “snacking” diet results in an 8.5% reduction in total cholesterol, a 13.5% reduction in LDL cholesterol, and a 15.1% reduction in apolipoprotein-B (ApoB) levels compared to the regular diet. ApoB is a protein that binds to LDL cholesterol. High levels of ApoB have been linked to a greater risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease and it is generally considered to be a better predictor of heart disease than LDL cholesterol alone.

The precise mechanisms by which meal frequency lowers cholesterol are not known however other studies have shown increased meal frequency results in lower blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. This in turn reduces the activity of an enzyme known as HMG-CoA reductase which plays a primary role in the production of cholesterol in the liver.