Nibbling versus gorging: metabolic advantages of increased meal frequency

N Engl J Med. 1989 Oct 5;321(14):929-34. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198910053211403.


We studied the effect of increasing the frequency of meals on serum lipid concentrations and carbohydrate tolerance in normal subjects. Seven men were assigned in random order to two metabolically identical diets. One diet consisted of 17 snacks per day (the nibbling diet), and the other of three meals per day (the three-meal diet); each diet was followed for two weeks. As compared with the three-meal diet, the nibbling diet reduced fasting serum concentrations of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B by a mean (+/- SE) of 8.5 +/- 2.5 percent (P less than 0.02), 13.5 +/- 3.4 percent (P less than 0.01), and 15.1 +/- 5.7 percent (P less than 0.05), respectively. Although the mean blood glucose level and serum concentrations of free fatty acids, 3-hydroxybutyrate, and triglyceride were similar during both diets, during the nibbling diet the mean serum insulin level decreased by 27.9 +/- 6.3 percent (P less than 0.01) and the mean 24-hour urinary C-peptide output decreased by 20.2 +/- 5.6 percent (P less than 0.02). In addition, the mean 24-hour urinary cortisol excretion was lower by 17.3 +/- 5.9 percent (P less than 0.05) at the end of the nibbling diet than at the end of the three-meal diet. The blood glucose, serum insulin, and C-peptide responses to a standardized breakfast and the results of an intravenous glucose-tolerance test conducted at the end of each diet were similar. We conclude that in addition to the amount and type of food eaten, the frequency of meals may be an important determinant of fasting serum lipid levels, possibly in relation to changes in insulin secretion.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid
  • Adult
  • Apolipoproteins B / blood
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • C-Peptide / urine
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Eating*
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / urine
  • Hydroxybutyrates / blood
  • Insulin / blood
  • Lipids / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Triglycerides / blood


  • Apolipoproteins B
  • Blood Glucose
  • C-Peptide
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Hydroxybutyrates
  • Insulin
  • Lipids
  • Triglycerides
  • Cholesterol
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid
  • Hydrocortisone