The influence of meal frequency and timing on health and disease has been a topic of interest for many years. While epidemiological evidence indicates an association between higher meal frequencies and lower disease risk, experimental trials have shown conflicting results. Furthermore, recent prospective research has demonstrated a significant increase in disease risk with a high meal frequency (≥6 meals/day) as compared to a low meal frequency (1⁻2 meals/day). Apart from meal frequency and timing we also have to consider breakfast consumption and the distribution of daily energy intake, caloric restriction, and night-time eating. A central role in this complex scenario is played by the fasting period length between two meals. The physiological underpinning of these interconnected variables may be through internal circadian clocks, and food consumption that is asynchronous with natural circadian rhythms may exert adverse health effects and increase disease risk. Additionally, alterations in meal frequency and meal timing have the potential to influence energy and macronutrient intake.A regular meal pattern including breakfast consumption, consuming a higher proportion of energy early in the day, reduced meal frequency (i.e., 2⁻3 meals/day), and regular fasting periods may provide physiological benefits such as reduced inflammation, improved circadian rhythmicity, increased autophagy and stress resistance, and modulation of the gut microbiota.
Keywords: cardiovascular health; diabetes; fasting; meal frequency; meal timing; obesity; time-restricted feeding.