NutriSense Blog
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How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?

March 21, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Liz McKinney

Have you ever wondered whether how often you eat has any impact on your health goals? While focusing on things like calorie intake, macronutrients, and healthy foods is essential, meal frequency is too—especially since it can impact everything from blood sugar levels to weight gain. 

So, whether you’re working on metabolic health, weight loss, weight gain, or better sleep quality, it's a good idea to focus on the number of meals you eat during the day.

If you have diabetes, it's even more important to focus on how often you eat during the day. But there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to meal frequency, so it’s best to consult a nutrition expert (like a registered dietitian) before making any changes.

It's a good idea to know enough about the health benefits of eating a few big meals and many smaller meals throughout the day so you can pick what works best for your body. To learn more about the pros and cons of each eating pattern, read on!

The Impact of Many Smaller (Four to Six) Meals a Day

jars with different types of meals, granola with berries, rice with veggies and chia seeds pudding with berries

So, how does eating smaller meals more frequently impact your glucose levels, metabolic health, weight gain, activity level, and appetite? There are two sides of the coin here, as with all things related to health and wellness. 

Advantages of Eating Four to Six Smaller Meals in a Day

Although there is limited evidence that four to six small meals a day favorably impact fat loss, there could be other advantages. Here are some people who might benefit from eating more frequently throughout the day:

  • People with clinical hypoglycemia (when glucose drops below 70 mg/dL). Hypoglycemia is associated with shakiness, sweating, dizziness, nausea, and clammy skin.
  • Those who have undergone weight loss surgery and may need to eat small meals.
  • Those who have high activity levels or engage in exercise or other physical activity several times daily.

Disadvantages of Eating Four to Six Smaller Meals in a Day

two bowls of porridge with berries a bowl of yogurt with berries, waffles and a  cup of coffee

Based on the points above, you’d think eating four to six meals a day was an easy choice for a healthy lifestyle. But since there’s no one-size-fits-all regarding the health benefits of different diet plans, there may also be disadvantages for some. Here are a few:

  • Eating more frequently keeps the body in a fed state, which could mean higher glucose levels throughout the day. Research supports the idea that those who eat larger but fewer meals throughout the day have lower glucose levels than those who eat more frequently. 
  • Another significant drawback is that it may be challenging to tune into hunger or satiety signals because you’re never truly hungry but never truly full either! It can cause some confusion with appetite signals.
  • A fascinating study conducted among healthy males may help explain this further. It found that a low-meal frequency diet increased satiety. It also reduced feelings of hunger compared with the group that ate more frequently. 
  • Recent research suggests that eating more than six meals daily versus three meals a day increases the risk for chronic disease, though, of course, correlation doesn't equal causation.  
  • Finally, eating small, more frequent meals has been touted to increase metabolic rate and fat burning, but the research does not back up this claim. While there is some increased thermoregulation when we eat from the digestion of our food, this does not seem to have a meaningful impact on metabolic rate.
  • One study from 2010 found that subjects who increased their meal frequency but consumed the same amount of calories over eight weeks as the control group did not show improvements in fat loss or appetite over those who ate less frequently.

How Eating Like This Impacts Your Body’s Glucose Levels

three lunchboxes of red rice and veggies

Remember that hormones like insulin are stimulated to help process incoming food whenever you eat. When you eat larger meals or those high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars, they stimulate more significant amounts of insulin.

So, when you're grazing throughout the day, your body is always in a fed state. By allowing some time between meals, you're giving your body time to rest and allowing time for your glucose levels to come down. 

New research from the Czech Republic shows that adults with type 2 diabetes who eat two large meals per day have better insulin sensitivity and increased weight loss than those who graze and eat more frequently, even when the total daily calories are the same. 

For 12 weeks, participants ate six meals per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks). For the other 12 weeks, they ate only a large breakfast between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and a large lunch between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Again, these findings suggest that it's not just meal frequency that matters; it's also a good idea to eat in alignment with your body’s circadian rhythm.  

The Impact of Larger, Less Frequent Meals

plates of vegetables

Just like eating four to six smaller meals a day impacts everything from glucose levels to physical health, there are impacts of fewer, larger meals. From postprandial glucose levels to better circadian rhythms and lower stress levels, here’s what you should know about eating fewer, larger meals. 

Advantages of Eating Fewer Large Meals in a Day

One study conducted in adults with type 2 diabetes found benefits from eating the largest meal earlier and a smaller meal for dinner. It led to reductions in postprandial glucose levels and lower average glucose levels throughout the day. 

Overall, as research suggests, “a regular meal pattern including breakfast consumption, consuming a higher proportion of energy early in the day, reduced meal frequency (i.e., two to three meals a day), and regular fasting periods may provide physiological benefits such as reduced inflammation, improved circadian rhythmicity, increased autophagy and stress resistance, and modulation of the gut microbiota.” 

Who Might Not Benefit From This Style of Eating?

a bowl of pasta and two wooden board of different types of cheese, sandwiches

Some groups of people might not benefit from eating less frequently. If any of this sounds familiar, you should consult your doctor before trying this eating pattern. 

  • It may not be an appropriate diet plan for those diagnosed with an eating disorder (including binge eating disorders).
  • It can lead to overeating and excessive cravings, driving a negative emotional relationship with food.
  • It may not be appropriate for those looking to lose or gain weight. 
  • It’s not the best eating pattern for anyone with clinical hypoglycemia or certain genetic conditions.
  • It may not be suitable for those with thyroid conditions. 

How Eating Like This Impacts Your Body’s Glucose Levels

a person  checking glucose response on the NutriSense app and a bowl of salad

One study conducted over two months among adults of ‘normal weight’ found that those who ate just one meal a day (eaten between 5 pm and 9 pm) exhibited higher morning fasting plasma glucose levels. They also had more significant, sustained glucose elevations and delayed insulin response in the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) than those who ate three meals a day. It’s important to take into consideration that the meal the subjects consumed was later in the evening when insulin sensitivity is diminished, so the timing of the meal and the composition could have had a role to play in the results! 

Fasting levels of hormones like insulin, leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin, resistin, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were not significantly affected by meal frequency. 

One small scale study looked at the difference in glucose and insulin levels in subjects who consumed 6 versus 3 meals a day over 12 hours, and found that while insulin levels did not differ, the group that consumed more meals had elevated glucose levels throughout the day. Interestingly, the addition of protein attenuated the response to frequent meals. 

Another study conducted among those with type 2 diabetes found that fasting until noon resulted in higher glucose levels after lunch and dinner. 

Again, these findings suggest that both meal frequency and meal timing are important factors to  consider.

Should You Consider Intermittent Fasting?

a clock, cheese, meat, fish and an avocado

When talking about meal frequency, it makes sense to include a discussion about fasting. If you eat less frequently, you are technically doing some intermittent fasting already!

Intermittent fasting is somewhat new on the scene and in its infancy regarding available research. Most studies conducted are short-term, which is a drawback when considering the long-term ramifications of fasting.

Still, there are a few golden rules that the NutriSense Nutrition Team believes benefit almost everyone. Here’s what they include:

  1. Aim for at least 14 hours of fasting every day.
  2. Consume most of your calories during daytime hours and limit food at least three hours before sleep.
  3. Try to minimize snacking or grazing between meals. Instead, focus on consuming enough at mealtime to feel satisfied for a while.

Apart from these tips, there are many other ways to explore different fasting styles. It’s a good idea to consult a registered dietitian to find the best practices for your body.

Advantages of Intermittent Fasting

a person eating cereal with berries

Intermittent fasting can help with cellular autophagy (which is cellular waste clean up and sloughing off of old worn old cells). Though it’s hard to say for sure when autophagy occurs during a fast, studies have shown markers of autophagy after 24 hours of fasting. 

Additionally, employing time-restricted eating and essentially eating most of your calories during daylight hours supports the body’s natural circadian rhythm. After seeing thousands of people's data, we've started to realize that when you eat is just as important as what you eat!

There’s also an interesting concept called Chrono nutrition, the intersection of circadian biology and nutrition. It turns out that all processes in your body function on a circadian rhythm, not just your sleep-wake cycle! Basically, ‘clocks’ in each of our organs dictate hormone secretion, insulin sensitivity, metabolic functions, nutrient absorption, appetite, glucose metabolism, body temperature, and much more. These processes work best when external cues (eating, sleeping, and exposure to light) align with these internal clocks. 

So, to maintain optimal health, you should focus on aligning these external and internal cues so they can work harmoniously together.

One significant misalignment is late-night eating, especially with carbohydrates. So, it's common to see elevated glucose values overnight or a higher glucose response to a meal when you eat later in the day. 

To back this up, one study conducted among men with prediabetes found benefits to time-restricted eating. Eating within a six-hour window and having dinner at 3 p.m. improved insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, oxidative stress, and appetite. 

Another study suggests that eating within a time-restricted eating window (for example, between an 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. window) and aligned with the body’s circadian rhythm increases fat oxidation and reduces appetite in women. 

Who Might Not Benefit From Intermittent Fasting?

As with all things, fasting may not be for everyone. If you fall into any of these groups, consider consulting a doctor or nutrition expert before you begin intermittent fasting:

  • If you’re underweight (especially underweight women).
  • If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you’re on any medications that need to be taken with food. 
  • If you’re taking insulin (for both type 1 or type 2 diabetes) 
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or gout. 
  • If you’re under 18.
  • If you have an uncontrolled thyroid condition.

How Eating Like This Impacts Your Body’s Glucose Levels

a person standing and holding their phone in the kitchen

Preliminary research shows improvements in glucose and insulin levels during intermittent fasting. It could be beneficial for those with diabetes who may have hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels) and insulin resistance in the muscles and the liver. 

When in a fed state, your body uses the glucose from food for energy. When you’re past eight hours of fasting, your body regulates glucose using internal factors (versus external factors such as food). So it’s a complex interaction between hormones such as insulin and glucagon and other internal processes.

Glucagon is the hormone released when your glucose starts to get low. It stimulates:

1) The breakdown of your glycogen stores (stored glucose). 

2) The creation of new glucose from noncarbohydrate sources (gluconeogenesis).

Usually, lower glucose levels, such as <70 or 80, trigger this. However, sometimes if you have a lot of glycogen stores (a lot of glucose in your liver and muscles), glucose could stay higher for a more extended period.

Also, remember that being under stress or having some form of insulin resistance may also stimulate gluconeogenesis. So, there are a few mechanisms at play here that are important to be mindful of.

Here is a great graph inspired by “The Complete Guide to Fasting” by Dr. Jason Fung that explains how glucose and fuel usage changes during fasting: 

a chart of the five stages of metabolism

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
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How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?
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Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health
Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health

Did you know that menopause can affect your metabolic health, and vice versa? Read on to understand the relationship between metabolic health and menopause, and how to manage metabolic health during your menopausal journey. 

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Understanding The Effects of Sugar on the Brain According to Research
Understanding The Effects of Sugar on the Brain According to Research

What really happens to your brain when you consume sugar? Review how interesting the relationship between the brain and sugar is, and why it’s important to control your blood sugar.

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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

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Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences
Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences

Quickly understand the differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, how to recognize the signs, and key prevention tips.

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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


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Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer

If you're gearing up to travel or spend more time outdoors this summer, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and hydrated in the sun.

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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.