Eating small amounts of food throughout the day (“grazing”), rather than taking in most of your calories in main meals and a few snacks, is associated with greater body mass index (BMI) in women and a poorer quality diet in both sexes, according to an Australian study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The study used data on 4,544 men and women age 19 and older who participated in the 2011-2012 Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. Researchers identified people in the surveys who ate in one of three different patterns:
- a “conventional” pattern, consisting of main meals plus a few snacks
- a conventional meal pattern, but with a later lunch
- a grazing style, in which people ate smaller amounts of food at times less likely to be at typical meal times in Australia.
The study found that both men and women were less likely to have diets that conform to Australia’s national nutrition guidelines. Only the women were more likely to be overweight, possibly because grazing behavior led them to overconsume calories over the course of the day compared with people who ate traditional meals.
Should you graze or sit down for several substantial meals? This one study does not settle the question, but whenever you eat, follow general guidelines for a healthy dietary pattern as recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.