Meal irregularity and cardiometabolic consequences: results from observational and intervention studies

Proc Nutr Soc. 2016 Nov;75(4):475-486. doi: 10.1017/S0029665116000239. Epub 2016 Jun 22.


Studying irregular meal patterns fits in with the latest research focusing not only on what people eat but also when they eat, also called chrono-nutrition. Chrono-nutrition involves studying the impact of nutrition on metabolism via circadian patterns, including three aspects of time: (ir)regularity, frequency and clock time. The present paper aimed to narratively review research on irregular meal patterns and cardiometabolic consequences. Only few cross-sectional studies and prospective cohort studies were identified, and most of these suggested that eating meals irregularly is associated with a higher risk of the metabolic syndrome and cardiometabolic risk factors, including BMI and blood pressure. This was supported by two randomised controlled intervention studies showing that consuming meals regularly for 2 weeks v. an irregular meal pattern, led to beneficial impact on cardiometabolic risk factors as lower peak insulin, lower fasting total and LDL-cholesterol, both in lean and obese women. In conclusion, the limited evidence on meal regularity and cardiometabolic consequences supports the hypothesis that consuming meals irregularly is adversely associated with cardiometabolic risk. However, it also highlights the need for more large-scale studies, including detailed dietary assessment to further advance the understanding of the impact of chrono-nutrition on public health.

Keywords: CLOCK circadian locomotor output cycles kaput; RR risk ratios; Cardiometabolic disease risk; Chrono-nutrition; Irregularity; Meal frequency; Meal patterns.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Meals*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology*