Should People With Diabetes Eat Six Times a Day?
Sacha Uelmen, RDN, CDE responds:
Managing blood glucose and eating well go hand in hand. How often you eat is just as important as what and how much you eat. Eating patterns are especially important for people using mealtime insulin.
What to Know
Your blood glucose changes throughout the day due to a variety of factors, many of which are out of your control. But you do have control over your eating habits.
There is conflicting research over whether eating more frequently throughout the day will help you to improve your blood glucose management. For some people with diabetes, eating six times during the day can lead to elevated blood glucose. That’s because your body doesn’t have enough time to get all of the glucose from the meal out of your blood and into your cells before the next surge comes, and your blood glucose just keeps rising. Eating frequently also makes it more difficult to maintain your weight and can often lead to weight gain.
But skipping meals, or only eating a big meal at the end of the day, can mess with your diabetes and weight management, too. If you use insulin or certain oral diabetes medications, skipping meals can lead to dangerous low blood glucose. And research has shown that skipping breakfast can cause cravings for higher-calorie foods later. That, in turn, can lead to weight gain and, if those foods are high in carb, blood glucose spikes.
The key is to determine when you can fit meals into your schedule, the amount you want to eat to help with diabetes and weight management, and how often you need to eat to avoid getting too hungry. Finding the right balance can take some time and practice, so don’t give up. If you need help, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist, who is an expert in meal planning and nutrition.
When you have diabetes, it helps to eat at consistent times spaced evenly throughout the day. The more consistent the eating pattern, the more predictable your blood glucose level will likely be. If you are taking insulin or pills to manage your diabetes, learn how changes to your eating plan or meal timing might impact your medication routine by talking with your pharmacist or health care provider first.
Sacha Uelmen, RDN, CDE, is the director of nutrition for the American Diabetes Association.