Six-Meal Diversity Deal

Say goodbye to three square meals. Imagine eating six meals a day—while also boosting your overall health.

Are you still stuck in the three-meals-a-day mindset? You're not alone. Many people get hung up on the misconception that eating anything beyond their allotted three meals per day constitutes a failure of dietary willpower. But while it's true that eating empty-calorie snack foods between meals is no recipe for health, limiting yourself to the traditional breakfast-lunch-dinner feeding format may not be doing you any favors, either. 

So try this: Forget between-meal snacking. Forget three squares a day. Why? Six meals a day may be better than three. 

It sounds like a contradiction, but with a focus on diversity and proper portion size, eating six mini meals instead of three large meals each day may add variety to your diet and could help you feel fuller and be healthier overall.  

Ditch the word "snack" 
Your first step in eating six meals a day is to kick the word "snack" out of your vocabulary. It often conjures up images of low-nutrition or high-fat items such as chips, pretzels or ice cream. These types of snacks won't help you lose weight or make your diet any more diverse. 

Your second step is to focus on size. Doubling your number of meals shouldn't double the food you eat each day. Instead, your three big meals become divided into six small meals a day. You should continue to take in roughly the same number of calories each day, assuming you are not currently overeating. 

Finally, make each mini meal an opportunity to vary and balance your diet to include the proper amount of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats as well as important vitamins and minerals. 

More is less 
The health bonuses of eating more meals are varied. Some studies show that people who eat more meals tend to eat a greater variety of foods and are more likely to meet their daily nutritional needs. 

Eating frequently may also help control your appetite, which in turn could help you control your weight. And by breaking up your three big meals into six smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day, you may also lower your blood cholesterol and your risk of heart disease

Don't space out 
With three squares a day, meals tend to be too far apart, which allows blood sugar levels to drop down low. When this happens, the urge to reach for unhealthful snacks in order to satisfy cravings can get you into trouble. 

Grabbing a quick high-carbohydrate snack may bring your blood sugar level up quickly, but most likely too quickly, after which it could simply crash once again, leaving you searching for your next food fix. 

Eating many small meals throughout the day—as long as the meals are balanced—can help stabilize your blood sugar, so you don't get energy highs and lows. 

The key to the six-meal plan is to pack your meals with enough nutritional punch and fiber to sustain yourself without adding a lot of unnecessary saturated fat and calories. 

Choose foods your body can use 
To keep your blood glucose levels steady throughout the day, focus on foods that will increase blood sugar levels slowly and stably. Try to include a fiber-rich item, a protein-rich item or a bit of healthy unsaturated fat in every mini meal to sustain your energy over a longer period of time. These kinds of food items digest more slowly and raise blood sugar levels more steadily. 

Also, keep your focus on diversity with each mini meal. While you balance your intake of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats throughout the day, your goal should be to enjoy a number of different items from each food group. 

If your morning meal contained protein-rich dairy, get your protein from another source in the afternoon. Try lean meats such as canned tuna, or vegetable sources such as soymilk, almonds or red beans. If the fiber-rich carbohydrate in your midday meal was whole-wheat bread, get your next fiber fix from a piece of fruit. Fruits high in fiber include figs, dates, raspberries, raisins and kiwifruit. 

Dynamic dietary duos 
Your mini meals will be more diverse if you try to include items from at least two food groups in every meal. Serving at least one fruit or a vegetable in each mini meal not only ensures variety but also helps you meet your RealAge Optimum of four fruit and five vegetable servings a day. Avoid mini meals that contain only a single kind of food. 

Pairing certain foods can help maximize the benefits of the six-meal plan. Here are a few examples of great pairings: 

  • Couple your vegetables with a bit of healthy fat to help your body better absorb the vitamins and minerals. For example, a drizzle of olive oil on a salad of mixed greens and sliced tomatoes makes it easier for your body to absorb the lutein in the greens and the lycopene in the tomatoes. 
  • Pair complex carbohydrates with a protein or healthful fat. The addition of a protein or healthy fat slows down the rate of digestion even more than a complex carbohydrate alone. Try whole-grain bagels with natural peanut butter, or dip your whole-grain crackers into spicy hummus. Or add walnuts to a fruit salad, which will help your body use any carotenoids in the fruit. 

Healthy eating redefined 
Eating smaller, more frequent meals can be a great way for some people to increase opportunities to meet nutritional gaps in their daily diet. Mini meals that incorporate whole-grain foods, colorful vegetables and fruit, lean fish or poultry, low-fat dairy and unsaturated fats not only will help to stabilize your blood sugar levels but also could help reduce your risk of several diseases, from heart disease and hypertension to diabetes and certain cancers. Saying goodbye to snacks and three squares a day never sounded sweeter. 

Medically reviewed in October 2019. Updated in March 2021. 

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