Effect of Meal Frequency on Absorption

The perceived health advantages of increased meal frequency (as opposed to eating larger, infrequent meals) have been of interest to researchers since the 1930s. In particular, the benefits of this approach were made apparent by the discovery that insulin requirements in diabetics could be decreased in a frequent meal regime. In a series of case reports on patients taking high insulin doses, it was demonstrated that improved glycemic control and decreased insulin requirements can be achieved when glucose is sipped at hourly intervals throughout the day. Similarly, in healthy individuals a diet composed of many small meals compared with an isoenergetic diet composed of larger meals results in decreased insulin and glucose fluctuations.

Meal frequency not only affects insulin and glucose levels but also influences an individual's circulating lipids. An inverse relationship exists between meal frequency and lipid levels, suggesting that infrequent feeding leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to large fluctuations in circulating lipids. Increased meal frequency, on the other hand, is associated with several benefits, such as decreased serum cholesterol levels, decreased total:high-density lipoprotein cholesterol ratio, decreased esterified fatty acids, and decreased enzyme levels in adipose tissue associated with fatty acid storage. Paradoxically, individuals who report that they eat more frequently not only have lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) but also have a greater intake of energy, total fat, and saturated fatty acids. Considering that some of these results were found in a free-living population, it is possible that dietary misreporting, a common occurrence in overweight populations, may be the cause of this inconsistency.

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