Interrupted Meals Makes for More Appetite Control

Meal patterns affect hormones, which control appetite and food intake in humans. In fact, appetite can be measured by assessing the levels of these hormones in the blood. A recent study examined the levels of these hormones post-consuming meals without interruptions and post-consuming meals with several interruptions (staggered condition). The way of eating in the first group was similar to having meals at home, while the second group had their meals in a way one have it at a restaurant. The researchers wanted to assess the levels of hormones and thereby, control the appetite in these two groups. The study also evaluated the additional food intake after consuming meals in both the settings. “In conclusion, in a laboratory setting, staggered compared with nonstaggered meal consumption induces greater appetite control, indicated by less pronounced hormone and appetite dynamics and more control over subsequent food wanting, yet does not affect postprandial energy intake.”

There are many hormones in the body that regulate food intake. Hormones such as glucagon-like peptide and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine reduce appetite. A hormone called ghrelin is a peptide secreted by the stomach and helps increase the appetite; its level is increased in fasting condition. Hence, by recording the levels of these hormones, one can assess the hunger level of an individual. In the present study, the researchers assessed the levels of these hormones after food was consumed in staggered (meals taken with breaks in between) and nonstaggered (meals taken without breaks) conditions. They hypothesized that when food is consumed slowly, there is time for the body to alter the levels of these hormones. This would enhance the capacity of the body to control appetite. It would also bring down the food intake subsequent to consumption of meals.

* The study included 38 participants, aged around 24 years with a body mass index of around 25. This study was conducted on two separate days.
* Blood samples were collected before the start of the experiment, during the experiment, and after the completion of the experiment, to assess the levels of ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine.
* On the first day, the participants were asked to consume a standard meal continuously within 30 minutes. The same participants were asked to come back after a week. This time too, they were asked to consume the same amount of food; however, this time, the food was given in four parts over a period of two hours.
* After consuming meals in both staggered and nonstaggered ways, all the participants were given plenty of sweet and spicy foods. The amount of additional food that they consumed was assessed.

* There was no difference in the baseline levels of all hormones. The peak levels of glucagon-like peptide and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine were low when the food was supplied with several interruptions. The time required to reach the lowest level of ghrelin was high in the staggered condition. As ghrelin level increases in hunger situation, these findings indicated better hunger control when food was served with multiple interruptions.
* In the staggered condition, the subsequent food intake was less.
* The total energy consumed in the staggered condition was 10 percent less than the nonstaggered condition. However, this finding was not statistically significant.

Shortcomings/Next steps
As the researchers had to follow the code of medical ethics, they collected blood from the participants for a short period of time. Ideally, the levels of the hormones should have been measured till they reached the baseline. Besides, the staggered condition produced in the experiment was not exactly similar to a restaurant setting. In a restaurant setting, many other factors such as being in a social group and presence of various distractions are often present.

The present study concludes that when meals were consumed with many interruptions, the subject controlled the appetite better. The additional food that the subject consumed after the meals was also comparatively less. Although the 10 percent less energy intake in staggered condition is not statistically significant, it could add up over a period of time and help in reducing obesity. This study proves that even the way in which the food is consumed, determines the risk of development of obesity. Further studies are necessary to evaluate the levels of hormones, when food is consumed in a condition which is similar to a restaurant setting.

For More Information:
Staggered Meal Consumption Facilitates Appetite Control without Affecting Postprandial Energy Intake
Publication Journal: The Journal of Nutrition, January 2011
By Sofie Lemmens; Eveline Martens; Top Institute Food and Nutrition, Wageningen, The Netherlands; Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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