How many meals should a person consume in a day and at what intervals should these meals be consumed?
Traditionally everyone is expected to have atleast 3 meals a day breakfast, lunch and supper. But for some people, they survive on one meal a day because they can’t afford but there are those who do it out of choice.
The question at hand however, is how much food and number of times must one eat without putting their health at risk.
According to Joseph Uwiragiye, a nutritionist at University Teaching Hospital Kigali, (CHUK) there is nothing wrong with eating three times a day since a lot of energy is used while working and can only be regained through food.
“All work whether manual work or mental without regular supply of food, the functions can be slowed down,” Uwiragiye says.
He adds that because of various reasons, some people miss lunch but continue to work undeterred because of the heavy breakfast they took.
“Sometimes it is hard to access another meal but breakfast rich in energy foods can last you for a day,” he explains.
Nutritionists point out that a typical breakfast should not be determined by the right choice of foodstuffs. A good meal may include a glass of juice, bread, scrambled egg or milk if there’s no egg.
“Those with limited funds can also have a nutritious breakfast such as a cup of Igikoma (soya porridge), accompanied by Irish potatoes,” Uwiragiye explains.
Whereas most people think that breakfast is the most important meal in a day, new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reveals that normal weight breakfast eaters also aren’t necessarily any better off than breakfast skippers.
Similar studies conducted by Dr. Krista Casazza an assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama, concluded that breakfast being the most important meal of the day is a presumption and may not necessarily help those who want to lose weight.
“Although there is belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we found that those that skip breakfast on average at lunch consume a couple of 200 to 300 more calories,” says Dr Cassazza
She adds that despite this deficit at lunch, breakfast eaters instead consume more calories on average.
“Even though they miss these calories during lunch, people who eat breakfast tend to consume 500 to 600 calories during breakfast and there may not be significant statistical weight difference at the end of the day,” she adds.
Carbohydrates, energy and meal frequency
Although most people derive 40 to 60 per cent of their total calories from carbohydrates, experts warn that if you consume more carbohydrates than you burn, those extra calories will be converted into fat and stored in the body.
Isaac Bikorimana, a nutritionist at Kibagabaga hospital says that, this conversion of excess carbohydrates to fat is a complex process and occurs primarily when one frequently takes in too much total calories in the daily diet.
“Excess carbohydrates are not stored in the body, even when you need energy you should limit the amount of carbohydrates that you take in,” Bikorimana says.
For long, poor feeding habits have been associated with a number of lifestyle diseases in the country, accounting for about 29 per cent of all deaths as of 2008.
The most prevalent of these diseases are cardiovascular diseases, accounting for 12 per cent of the total deaths in all age groups.
Experts therefore suggest that good feeding habits are necessary to tackle such problems and call for adequate spacing between meals.
“Breakfast should not be so close to lunch, they should at least be apart because feeding too close may be like wasting food as a result of insufficient digestion time,” he says.
Feeding for special needs
Although snacking between meals is a common practice for people, medical professionals warn that snacking should be allowed only for certain categories of people who are at the higher end of nutritional requirements.
“Snacking between meals is good for pregnant and lactating women because their bodies have a high demand for nutrients that can only be obtained from the food,” says, King Faisal Hospital nutritionist Rene Tabaro.
Tabaro, however, maintains that for the convalescent people, adjustments in meal frequency are allowed depending on the type of infection.
“People who have tuberculosis can eat as much as five meals in a day because the body may need a lot of nutrients to replenish the worn out cells,” Tabaro explains.
He adds that small quantities eaten many times are recommended for individuals living with diabetes and those who are malnourished.
“For malnourished individuals and diabetics, the absorption of nutrients may be low hence they need to be provided with smaller quantities of food but many times,” he explains.
Most people usually skip supper because of reduced activity but nutritionists still maintain that the body may require energy that should be supplied through minute quantities of food.
“During rest, the body requires a certain amount of energy during basal metabolism because the brain does not sleep. Preferably during the evening, people should eat more fruits compared to other foods,” Bikorimana says.
Even with growing concerns about weight gain, food habits and lifestyle diseases, health experts still maintain that skipping meals is not a good choice and those who are watchful of their weight need to instead put focus on the amount of calories consumed.
The New Times