If you have type 2 diabetes, then eating several small meals a day to maintain stable blood sugar and lose weight may actually be false. Although many people stick with that eating plan, it has shown to pose more harm than good to type 2 diabetics.
Two large meals each day may be better for managing diabetes than six small ones, according to a study in the journal Diabetologia.
The randomized trial, carried out in the Czech Republic, looked at 54 subjects, all with type 2 diabetes and taking oral medication as part of their treatment plan. The study group included both men and women, aged 30 to 70, who followed one diet for 12 weeks before switching to another diet for another 12. The two diets had the same calorie content that included plenty of fiber, and identical breakdowns of macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats and protein. The one major difference between the two diets was, one involved eating six small meals each day and the other included just two large ones.
The study subjects who ate six meals a day ate breakfast, lunch, dinner and three small snacks in-between. Those who ate two meals daily consumed only breakfast in the morning and lunch in the afternoon, not eating past 4 p.m. each day.
The study group was split in half, with one group starting with the six-meal diet and the other the two-meal diet. After 12 weeks, the two groups switched. All participants were asked not to change their exercise habits during the study.
Both diet groups lost weight during the study, but the subjects on the two-meal diet lost more, on average, by about three pounds. That same group also showed bigger reductions in insulin resistance and increased sensitivity to their oral insulin medication. Neither group showed any ill health effects as a result of either diet.
Interesting, since the idea behind frequent grazing is keeping blood sugar stable – a good thing for diabetics and everyone else. But another issue with all those mini-meals is the green light to eat more than you need, simply because you’ve programmed yourself to eat often. Unintentionally, you’re likely taking in more calories than you’re burning.
“The patients were really afraid they would get hungry in the evening but feelings of hunger were lower as the patients ate until they were satisfied,” study lead Dr. Hana Kahleova told BBC News about the two-meal group. “But when they ate six times a day the meals were not leaving them feeling quite as satisfied. It was quite surprising.”
This study isn’t the first to suggest that fewer meals may, in fact, be better. Studies on lab animals have shown that less-frequent meals can prevent chronic disease and even extend lifespan. In experiments, mice do better on diets when their time to eat is restricted versus those allowing them to feed when they wish.
Other studies suggest that fasting, when done intermittently and in a responsible way, can have weight-loss benefits. And studies with humans have shown that a diet with frequent eating may not be so good for our health after all.
As the researchers concluded, “The results suggest that, for type 2 diabetic patients on a hypoenergetic diet, eating larger breakfasts and lunches may be more beneficial than six smaller meals throughout the day.”
However, the study is limited by the small amount of participants and short length. Those involved had also only been living with diabetes for a short time which should be considered as well. The results wouldn’t necessarily be the same in those who have lived with diabetes for a much longer period.
The researchers do caution that larger and longer studies are needed before sweeping changes can be made in terms of diet recommendations. Before you decide to make diet changes and alter your diabetic treatment plan, speak to your doctor.
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