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Future Health

Meal Patterns and your Health

January 25, 2021 

Over the years researchers have debated how many meals a day and over what time period yields the best health results. Meal frequency recommendations for optimum benefits varied from 5-6 small meals throughout the day to eating two to three big meals including at least a 12 to 14-hour fast. The variations left many people confused.

While there is still no consensus, most research indicates that individuals should experiment to determine the eating routine that works best for them.

Today, a pattern of eating called Intermittent Fasting is gaining popularity. The claimed benefits of Intermittent Fasting include increased fat loss and increased muscle development, which leads to better overall health. Intermittent Fasting is not a diet because it focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat. It does not change the number of calories you eat. But both methods require self-discipline.

Several arguments for and against Intermittent Fasting have become part of the debate by physicians and exercise physiologists around the merits of eating two larger meals rather than five or six smaller meals each day.

Points in favor of Intermittent Fasting include:

Increased insulin sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity is a measure of how your body reacts to insulin. A higher sensitivity means a better ability to control blood sugar levels. Insulin allows the sugar in the blood to enter the cells of the body to be used as energy. High blood sugar levels often associated with Diabetes come with many health risks.

Accumulation of ammonia

The problem with eating several small meals throughout the day, which are often recommended to include high amounts of protein, is that ammonia builds up in the body. Protein, which includes amino acids, yield the byproduct of ammonia as they are metabolized, which can be detrimental to certain tissues in the body including the brain. If ammonia levels get too high, cell signaling is interrupted and energy production is disrupted.

Increased cell signaling

Cell signaling is defined as how efficiently the cells of your body communicate with one another, and how effectively your hormone system is functioning to maintain a healthy balance. Eating several meals throughout the day, especially when they contain sugar, forces the body to constantly be reacting to the breakdown and absorption of food which results in the signaling mechanism to be overused which makes them less efficient. The more efficient the cell signaling, the more effective your body is at shuttling nutrients to the proper places and the healthier you will be.

Points against Intermittent Fasting include:

Decreased glycemic variation

Glycemic variation is the difference between high and low blood sugar throughout the day. Although the insulin response to this process is beneficial, large glycemic variations have the potential to be detrimental to body composition. The benefits of greater insulin sensitivity from Intermittent Fasting might not outweigh the negative effect of a greater glycemic variation.

Slowed metabolism

Although not proven, some sources suggest that not eating for 12-16 hours might cause your metabolism to slow down, which makes it more difficult to lose weight. For those trying to drop pounds, Intermittent Fasting might not be the best choice.

Clearly, there are advantages and disadvantages to Intermittent Fasting. Because we all respond differently to patterns of eating and exercise routines, and since research doesn’t point in any single direction with certainty, individuals are encouraged to experiment to determine what method works best for them. Experts do agree that some form of regular physical activity combined with getting at least 7.5-9 hours of sleep and managing stress are the most important ways you can improve your health.

If you don’t know if Intermittent fasting is for you then speak to your doctor or nutritionist.