Highlighting the positive impact of increasing feeding frequency on metabolism and weight management

Forum Nutr. 2003:56:126-8.


Research on feeding frequency started more than 20 years ago and some studies have shown evidence of nutritional benefits, especially on metabolism and body weight management. Advice on feeding frequency could play an important role in public health policies by reducing levels of overweight and obesity, the prevalence of which has dangerously increased in most countries over the last few decades. The 17th International Congress of Nutrition brought to the forefront the benefits of increasing feeding frequency (i.e. keeping the same total daily energy intake but dividing it into more frequent meals than usual). Recent epidemiological studies, mostly carried out in France, have provided evidence on the beneficial effects of a fourth meal for those individuals who habitually choose this pattern. Supported by metabolic data, these findings have now been supported by experimental studies. The "goûter", commonly eaten in the afternoon in France by most children and many adults, has the biological characteristics of a meal because it is eaten in response to hunger. Suppressing the "goûter" in "habitual fourth meal eaters" soon leads to an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI). Further, people who are regular "goûter" eaters have a higher carbohydrate intake and better metabolic profile than other adults, even though their total energy intake is not greater. Increased feeding frequency leads to a reduction in the total secretion of insulin, an improvement in insulin resistance and a better blood glucose control, as well as an improvement in the blood lipid profile. The experts agreed that, as long as we do not consume more energy than we use up and we only eat when we are hungry, it may be useful to split our total energy intake into as many meals as our social pattern allows. However, the pattern of eating cannot be completely dissociated from the composition of foods consumed. Therefore within this energy intake, we must take care to consume not only a good balance of macronutrients with high carbohydrate and low fat levels, but also ensure that we get an adequate intake of essential micronutrients. "What you eat" and "When you eat it" are public health messages to communicate: frequent consumption of low energy dense high carbohydrate foods, rich in micronutrients, must be encouraged ensuring that energy intakes are not greater than energy expenditures and that eating episodes occur in a hunger state.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Eating
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Time Factors