Does Eating Smaller, Frequent Meals or Snacks of Nutrient Dense Foods Help Manage Weight?

Confusing nutrition messages are often linked to timing of meals and types of foods, but struggling consumers can take action by eating nutritious choices relatively more frequently and earlier in the day.

 Ghadeer Aljuraiban and research colleagues summarized cross-sectional associations between both the frequency and the time of eating, to energy density, nutrient quality (using the NRF9.3 index), and BMI, using data on 2,385 men and women age 40-59 years living in the US and the UK, participating in the International Study on Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (Aljuraiban, 2015). Note that “[o]nly solid foods were included in calculating energy density, consistent with previous studies that concluded that beverages should be excluded…” because liquids disproportionately affect energy density.

On average, women reported more eating occasions/day than men (5.0 compared to 4.6/day, respectively) and had a lower energy density (kcal/g). Women and men consumed a similar ratio of evening/morning energy intake (3.3 and 3.4 ratio of evening to morning on average).


“[P]articipants who ate more frequently and consumed most of their energy earlier in the day (>6 eating occasions/24 hours and ratio of evening/morning energy intake <1.8) had lower energy density, total energy intake, and alcohol intake; higher NRF9.2 [i.e., higher nutrient rich food index], food weight, and fruit intake compared to those who ate fewer eating occasions…and consumed most of their food later in the day…”

BMI was inversely associated with eating occasions (i.e., the more occasions, the lower BMI) and with nutrient density (NRF9.3). As expected, BMI was positively associated with dietary energy density. It was also associated with higher ratio of evening/morning energy intake.

Also from this study, it appears that those eating more frequently, but earlier in the day, tend to eat more low-fat/fat-free dairy, cooked vegetables, and fruit (high nutrient dense foods) and less red meat and less beverages overall, but particularly alcohol.

To summarize, the authors concluded by stating

“Our findings demonstrated that lower BMI levels in more frequent eaters are associated with consumption of lower dietary energy density and higher nutrient quality foods. Modifying eating behavior through more frequent meals of low dietary energy density and high nutrient quality may be an important approach to control epidemic obesity.”


Reference Citation

GS Aljuraiban, Q Chan, LM Oude Griep, IJ Brown, ML Daviglus, J Stamler, L Van Horn, P Elliott, and GS Frost for the INTERMAP Research Group. “The impact of eating frequency and time of intake on nutrient quality and body mass index: The INTERMAP study, a population-based study” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;Vol. 115(4):528-535.


Robyn Kievit Kirkman, FNP-BC, RDN, LDN, CSSD, CEDRD, is a dietitian in private practice in Boston & Concord, MA, and also works as a nurse practitioner. She serves as a health professional advisor to the Egg Nutrition Center.


Views expressed by the author may not be those of the Egg Nutrition Center.

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