Eating smaller meals more frequently has become a popular lifestyle choice for people with various medical challenges. Research has discovered that big meals lead to fat storage, but your body burns up mini meals as soon as you eat them. Consuming food in snack-sized portions throughout your waking hours ensures that a steady supply of nutrients remains available to fuel your body. Doctors and nutritionists recommend grazing as a healthier alternative to consuming three typical big meals per day, especially when controlling your cholesterol is a struggle.
Snack Your Health Woes Away
If you’re taking a cholesterol medicine like Zetia, you can encourage it to work even better by adjusting your meal schedule. Multiple studies show that switching to six or more mini meals a day can improve your cholesterol levels. A study found that snackers lowered their cholesterol levels by 8 percent. According to additional studies, those nibblers also reduced their heart attack risks by 16 percent because every 1-percent reduction in cholesterol lowers your heart attack risk by at least 2 percent.
Researchers studied men who consumed 2500 calories a day. During a two-week period, they ate three ordinary size meals. For the next two weeks, they consumed the same total calories by eating 17 daily snacks once an hour. Even though their mini meals weren’t low in cholesterol, their lipid profiles improved. The nibbling diet lowered cholesterol by 9 percent and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by 14 percent.
When you go over four hours between meals, your body’s glucose energy supply dips low enough for fatigue to limit physical and mental functioning. Well-timed snacks give your body a steady supply of fuel, so you can perform at your best throughout the day. Studies have shown that eating a snack between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. can improve cognitive skills such as memory, reading speed, arithmetic reasoning and attention span.
Thinking of snacks as nutritious mini meals instead of treats or rewards will encourage you to make healthy choices. Grazing may help prevent cravings so you’ll be less likely to binge on empty calories from added sugars and solid fats. In addition to improving your cholesterol, mini meals also may keep your blood sugar levels consistent, promote weight loss, improve energy levels, boost metabolism and preserve lean muscle mass.
Smart Grazing Tips
Track your calories. Consuming more meals doesn’t give you permission to overeat. Split a regular-sized meal into two smaller portions. Spread your daily calorie intake throughout your day so you meet your goal during your last meal. Divide your total calorie amount by the number of daily meals you plan to eat to determine how many calories each meal should contain. For example, dividing 1800 by 6 equals 300. So you’ll need to eat six 300-calorie meals to reach your 1800-calorie daily total. Remember to fulfill your body’s needs for all other key nutrients as well. Keeping a food diary may help.
Balance out your foods. Each mini meal is an opportunity to combine appropriate amounts of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats along with vitamins and minerals. Pack each meal with enough nutrition and fiber to sustain you without adding unnecessary saturated fat and calories. Include various food groups: meat, poultry, fish, beans, vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, eggs and dairy.
Eat whole instead of processed foods. A mini meal is a smaller version of a larger meal — not an excuse to indulge in high-fat, high-carb foods like chips and candy between meals. Good meal choices include a bowl of soup, half a sandwich, a large rice cake with natural peanut butter, whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese, a hard-boiled egg with raw veggies and yogurt with fruit.
Plan ahead. Keep your kitchen and work place stocked with a nutritious variety so you won’t resort to junk food from vending machines.
Recognize hunger. When you stick to fixed mealtimes, you eat whether you’re hungry or not. Instead of watching the clock, abide by your body’s innate appetite control center. Learn to recognize your hunger signs.
You may become cranky or weak when you’ve gone too long without sustenance. Eat within an hour of noticing your body’s hunger signals. Irregular eating patterns and skipping meals can confuse your body and disturb your metabolism. If you wait until you’re feeling ravenous, you’re more likely to grab unhealthy foods and overeat.
Sample Meal Plan
Breakfast: 1 cup of cooked oatmeal topped with ground flaxseed and fresh blueberries
Beverages: Skim milk and black coffee
Mini Meal: 6 ounces of non-fat yogurt topped with a tablespoon of walnuts
Lunch: Spinach salad topped with carrots, radishes, onion, cucumber, light tuna packed in water and 2 tablespoons of light vinaigrette dressing with six whole-wheat crackers
Dessert: An apple
Beverage: Unsweetened iced tea
Mini Meal: 1 cup of raw vegetables dipped in ¼ cup of hummus
Dinner: 3-ounce grilled chicken breast
Vegetables: 2 cups of steamed broccoli drizzled with olive oil; a cup of brown rice
Dessert: A bowl of berries
Mini Meal: 3 cups of light microwave or air-popped popcorn
Customize Your Routine
Try enjoying six or more smaller meals a day to determine what works best for you and your cholesterol. And remember, any good diet plan is successful only if you stick to it.