How to Determine Your Ideal Meal Frequency

Have you been told to eat 5 to 6 meals a day? Perhaps you've heard that three square meals is ideal or that fasting once a week is just what your body needs. If you're confused, you're not alone.

Even in the health community, the verdict is still out on what the ideal meal frequency is. Read the fine print, give it a try, and let your body decide which one is right for you.

More: The Top Diet Trends of 2013

What is Meal Frequency, Why Does it Matter?

Meal frequency is defined by how many times a day you eat a meal and/or snack. There is one significant bodily function that this affects: blood sugar maintenance. "When we eat food it breaks down into individual pieces, individual sugars, and those get digested into your blood stream; at that point it becomes blood sugar," says Tara Coleman, clinical nutritionist.

That sugar is what fuels you through a run, a hike or a rough day at work. So, when your blood sugar drops adrenaline is released and your body begins craving sugar to replenish; that's when you become irritable and sprint to the nearest doughnut stand.

These eating methods offer a different way to maintain your blood sugar levels and a whole host of other health benefits.

3 to 6 Meals a Day

This is one of the most popular meal frequency types thanks to recent popularity. Still, consider both the positives and negatives:

Benefit: When it comes to blood sugar maintenance, this is the clear winner. "Basically you're keeping your blood sugar stable throughout the day," says Coleman. This method also helps you control portion sizes—with another meal or snack coming in a few hours, you can eat just enough to get you until then, says Paul Kriegler, corporate registered dietitian.

Drawback: On a structured eating plan like this, you may end up eating just because it's time to eat, rather than because your body says so.

Keep in mind that the benefits of this diet plan only apply when you're indulging in reasonable portion sizes and healthy foods, including protein, whole grains, healthy fats and fiber.

More: 10 Healthy, High-Protein Snacks

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