Does It Really Matter WHEN You Eat?

Does It Really Matter WHEN You Eat?

Medical and nutritional research continues to trumpet the advantages of eating more fruits, grains, and vegetables at the same time one cuts down on animal products in his or her diet. This strikes me as a rather remarkable evolution as I look back on over 25 years of medical practice which included, early in my career, encounters with incredulous dietitians who found it hard to fathom why I would withhold meat and dairy items from my hospitalized patients.

Indeed, the world is better appreciating the truth of the principles on which Weimar founded its NEWSTART program over 30 years ago. However, many of our members are unaware of some of the pivotal health books which have shaped and refined Weimar’s health philosophy over the years. One of those books, Counsels on Diet and Foods (henceforth abbreviated CD), was first published in 1938. Over 70 years ago, it advocated the whole plant diet that all our guests are so familiar with: “Grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables constitute the diet chosen for us by our Creator. These foods, prepared in as simple and natural a manner as possible, are the most healthful and nourishing. They impart a strength, a power of endurance, and a vigor of intellect, that are not afforded by a more complex and stimulating diet” (page 81).

Could this dusty old volume that has proved correct on food choices also be correct when it comes to its detailed instructions on meal timing?

This is an especially relevant question as great perplexity engulfs medical and nutritional “experts” regarding when we should eat. Specifically, many apparently responsible scientists today espouse the concept of “grazing“as the optimal approach to meal timing. Is there any scientific merit for this position? Or perhaps more to the point: is there better scientific rationale for the principles articulated in Counsels on Diet and Foods; namely that we should: eat a good breakfast, eat at regular times, not eat between meals, and leave off supper (or keep it light if we are among the minority that need a third meal)?

Although space precludes a detailed examination of all these issues, let me share a sampling of some of the scientific evidence that validates the Counsels on Diet and Foods meal-timing principles which have been so influential in the development of the NEWSTART program.

  1. “Make your breakfast correspond more nearly to the heartiest meal of the day.” CD, p.173. The medical research is prolific when it comes to breakfast’s benefits on physical and mental performance. If you need any further rationale to convince your children or grandchildren, consider this: a 2010 paper in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition1 linked breakfast eating to reduced risk of overweight and obesity.2 That’s in addition to data conclusively showing improved academic performance among breakfast eaters.3
  2. “Eat at regular periods.” CD, p. 169. A 2005 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that having a regular time for your meals helped lower levels of the bad cholesterol (LDL) and helped with weight reduction (by decreasing caloric consumption and increasing the number of calories burned in processing your meals).4
  3. “You should never let a morsel pass your lips between your regular meals.” CD, p. 180. In the Alameda County Study’s classic longevity research, eating between meals (snacking) and skipping breakfast emerged as dietary factors that shortened lifespan.5 6 Despite all the hype that snacking can help with weight loss, a number of studies suggest this is a fallacy7 8 “and may even contribute to weight gain.9
  4. “Most people enjoy better health while eating two meals a day than three; others, under their existing circumstances, may require something to eat at supper-time; but this meal should be very light.” CD, p. 58. Weight loss is among the benefits of leaving off supper. An evening meal also increases the likelihood your blood sugar will still be rising at bedtime; if this is the case, levels of the restorative growth hormone will be blunted. Late meals can also interfere with quality sleep by depressing natural melatonin levels.

When it comes to meal frequency, data are amassing that two or three meals are superior to the “grazing“approach in a number of respects. A 2010 study published by the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism showed that more than three meals daily worsened blood sugar metabolism throughout the day.10 On the other hand, when eating the same number of calories in three meals compared to six meals per day, those eating fewer times felt more full throughout the day,11 thus suggesting that grazing is not a good plan when it comes to appetite control.

But perhaps most chilling is research amassing from diverse cultural and geographic settings which connects increased meal frequency to a significantly increased risk of colon cancer. Data from Sweden, Italy, the U.S., and Australia12 13 14 15 all agree that eating more meals or snacks increases cancers of the colon and rectum. The cancer risk may be increased as much as 70% by going from two meals to three meals per day.16

It’s encouraging to see the growing body of scientific evidence validating the dietary principles that have helped make NEWSTART a truly life-changing program for our members. If you would like to reconnect with some of the philosophical roots of NEWSTART, why not consider picking up a copy of Counsels on Diet and Foods or its sister book, The Ministry of Healing?


References

  1. Szajewska H, Ruszczynski M. Systematic review demonstrating that breakfast consumption influences body weight outcomes in children and adolescents in Europe. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Feb;50(2):113-9.

  2. See also: Gleason PM, Dodd AH. School breakfast program but not school lunch program participation is associated with lower body mass index. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Feb;109(2 Suppl):S118-28.

  3. Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL, Adams J, Metzl JD. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 May;105(5):743-60

  4. Farshchi HR, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Beneficial metabolic effects of regular meal frequency on dietary thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and fasting lipid profiles in healthy obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1):16-24.

  5. Belloc NB, Breslow L. Relationship of physical health status and health practices. Prev Med. 1972 Aug;1(3):409-21.

  6. Belloc NB. Relationship of health practices and mortality. Prev Med. 1973 Mar;2(1):67-81.

  7. Bellisle F, McDevitt R, Prentice AM. Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. 1997 Apr;77 Suppl 1:S57-70.

  8. Cameron JD, Cyr MJ, Doucet E. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101. Epub 2009 Nov 30.

  9. Yannakoulia M, Melistas L, Solomou E, Yiannakouris N. Association of eating frequency with body fatness in pre- and postmenopausal women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jan;15(1):100-6.

  10. Holmstrup ME, Owens CM, Fairchild TJ, Kanaley JA. Effect of meal frequency on glucose and insulin excursions over the course of a day. e-SPEN, [The European e-Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism]. 2010 Dec; 5 (6): e277-e280.

  11. Leidy HJ, Armstrong CL, Tang M, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. The influence of higher protein intake and greater eating frequency on appetite control in overweight and obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Sep;18(9):1725-32.

  12. de Verdier MG, Longnecker MP. Eating frequency—a neglected risk factor for colon cancer? Cancer Causes Control. 1992 Jan;3(1):77-81.

  13. Franceschi S, La Vecchia C, Bidoli E, Negri E, Talamini R. Meal frequency and risk of colorectal cancer. Cancer Res. 1992 Jul 1;52(13):3589-92.

  14. Wei JT, Connelly AE, Satia JA, Martin CF, Sandler RS. Eating frequency and colon cancer risk. Nutr Cancer. 2004;50(1):16-22.

  15. Potter JD, McMichael AJ. Diet and cancer of the colon and rectum: a case-control study. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1986 Apr;76(4):557-69.

  16. Franceschi S, op cit.

Comments ( 1 ) Leave a Comment
  1. 1 Cherlyn Mar 1, 2012, 3:34 AM PST

    What about acid GI tract related issues, which calls for small and frequent meals? If small meals are not eaten every 2-3 hours it aggravates the disease, in such a case what should be done?

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