How Meal Timings & Meal Frequency Impact Digestion
- 3 mins read
- Diet and Healthy Food
- Jillian Lai Mei Siew
Some of us are planners and some of us aren’t. Some have their entire day planned out. Some just like to go with the flow. Whether you are a finish assignment at 3:54 PM person or a wake-up and go bungee jumping person, it is important to plan your meals in advance. This means eating the right food at the right time. So let’s dive into the necessity of meal planning.
Time it by your body clock
Have you noticed that you sometimes get up just a minute or so before your alarm rings? This is because your body is set in a particular rhythm, called the circadian rhythm. This is because it is regulated by the biological clock. A biological clock exists in almost every tissue and organ. All of these bio-clocks are synchronized by the master clock in the brain.
Body clock and gut residents
Be it the smartwatch on your wrist or a grandfather clock in your dining room, we all keep a track of time through some devices. What if we told you your gut bacteria are also working on a clock?
Many gut bacteria exhibit oscillatory behaviour in response to the time of day and time of eating. Jet lag, changes in shifts and other drastic changes in the schedule can impact not just the function but also the composition of the gut microbiome. This can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation, etc.
The body clock and gut bacteria interaction is a two-way street. The gut bacteria can alter our circadian rhythms as well through metabolites. Looks like a tit-for-tat situation!
Fair and square
Tradition dictates that we have three square meals every day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some diets may recommend adding two additional meals too. This notion of square meals is a mix of cultural heritage and few epidemiological studies. You’ll be surprised to know that the three-square meal plan is relatively recent! Romans used to have only one substantial meal a day and considered having more than one meal unhealthy. However, studies suggest reduced meals can disturb your digestion.
Tip for you: When in Rome, do not have just one meal!
Now that we’ve discussed the three square meals, let’s see what deferring from them can do. In general, increased and reduced meal frequencies can both be harmful to digestion. Infrequent meal patterns can lead to weight gain, an increase in hunger hormones and metabolic disturbances.
Busting myths about meal frequency
- Myth: Eating frequently can reduce hunger
Fact: There’s no concrete evidence to suggest that eating more often can reduce hunger or calorie intake. In fact, some studies show that smaller, more frequent meals can increase hunger.
- Myth: Frequent meals can help in weight loss
Fact: Research does not favour the notion that changing your meal frequency can help in losing weight. A study in obese adults compared the effects of eating 3 and 6 meals per day and found no difference in weight, fat loss, or appetite.
- Myth: Eating frequently can boost your metabolism
Fact: As opposed to the popular notion, eating smaller meals more often does not increase your metabolism. Research suggests that increasing or decreasing meal frequency does not affect total calories burned
- Myth: Eating often is good for your health
Fact: Snacking is not inherently good for your health. Instead, fasting from time to time has major metabolic health benefits. This is due to the cellular repair process of autophagy which is triggered by short-term fasting.
When it comes to your digestive health, quantity and quality are both equally important. We all have things that we put on top priority. However, skipping meals, erratic eating habits, eating takeout food all the time should not be an option. For a healthy digestive system, it is important to plan your meals and sticking to a healthy eating schedule.
- Circadian Rhythms Available at https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspxAccessed on 3 August 2021
- Paoli A, Tinsley G, Bianco A, Moro T. The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 28;11(4):719.
- Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, Ibanez G, Allès B, Kesse-Guyot E, Hercberg S, Péneau S. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Feb 2;14(1):12.
- The microbiota clock: how gut microbes and circadian rhythms influence health Available at https://microbiomepost.com/the-microbiota-clock-how-gut-microbes-and-circadian-rhythms-influence-health/Accessed on 3 August 2021
- 11 Myths About Fasting and Meal Frequency Available at https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-myths-fasting-and-meal-frequencyAccessed on 3 August 2021