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Study aims to determine how frequently people should eat for optimal health

Is it better to eat small meals throughout the day or fewer, more traditional meals without snacks?

SEATTLE — Aug. 11, 2015 — Popular diet literature often suggests that eating small, frequent meals throughout the day may be better for one’s health than eating fewer, more “traditional” meals each day without snacking in-between. It has also been suggested that grazing throughout the day may reduce hunger. However, there is not strong scientific evidence supporting these ideas, according to scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

In an attempt to answer the question of how often people should eat for optimal health, researchers at Fred Hutch are recruiting Seattle-area men and women for a clinical trial to find out.

“Americans have access to guidance on what foods to consume to achieve an appropriate nutrient balance, and on how much food to consume to lose, maintain or gain body weight,” said Martine "Petey" Perrigue, Ph.D., R.D., a study investigator in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch. “The one major question that remains unanswered is, ‘How often should we eat?’”

Preliminary findings by Perrigue and colleagues – in addition to other recent studies – suggest that eating more frequently may be harmful to health “since it leaves the body in a perpetual fed state,” she said. This is characterized by elevated blood glucose and insulin, and other inflammatory proteins, or biomarkers, which are associated with higher disease risk.

the Fresh Study logo

To definitively address the question of how often people should eat, Perrigue and colleagues will enroll approximately 50 participants who will:

  • complete a secure, online screening questionnaire;
  • consume meals on both a three-times-a-day and six-times-a-day schedule for three weeks each;
  • come to Fred Hutch for seven clinic visits for blood draws and other study procedures; and
  • receive $300 upon completion of the study.

Study participants will provide all of their own food and make their own food choices after receiving guidance from study dietitians.

“This is not a weight-loss study,” Perrigue emphasizes. Participants will be provided with guidelines for maintaining body weight during both study phases.

To be eligible for the study, participants must be healthy, non-smokers, between the ages of 18 and 50 and not on a special diet.

Ultimately, the researchers hope the study will provide important information about the effects of eating frequency on health and appetite. Our study results may be used to form guidelines for eating frequency in the context of an overall healthy diet.”

For more information about the study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, email or call 206.667.7091.

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At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first National Cancer Institute-funded cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.

Molly McElroy
206.667.6651 (desk)