Expert Q&A

Meal frequency: Why should diabetics eat every 4-5 hours?

I heard I should eat every four to five hours. Why?

If your schedule enables you to eat more than three meals a day, you may be better off. Experts believe that spreading out carbohydrate consumption may have benefits: 

  • Your body may need less insulin to handle the smaller meals and snacks.
  • Your average blood sugar level may lower over time.
  • Less cholesterol may be produced, which will help control your cholesterol levels.
  • You won’t get as hungry before meals, making it easier to avoid overeating.

Remember: Eating four to five meals per day doesn’t translate into eating more food. Instead, it simply means spreading out the food you’re already eating into smaller meals and snacks.

If you’re using insulin or taking diabetes medication, it is especially important that you eat at consistent times and eat consistent amounts of carbohydrates and calories. If you don’t, your blood sugar levels may fall too low or rise too high. And whether you are on insulin, taking diabetes pills or managing your diabetes through diet and exercise alone, consistent mealtimes and calorie/carbohydrate intake are two of the best ways to level out your blood sugar spikes.

Eating just one or two large meals per day is probably the worst choice you can make. Skipping meals or going too long without food can increase your body’s resistance to insulin. This habit also sets you up for eating too much food at your meals, which causes high blood sugar levels. If you’re taking insulin or diabetes medication, not eating regular meals can put you in danger of low blood sugars, which can be life threatening. 

In contrast, many small meals and snacks sprinkled throughout the day means your body gets a smaller dose of carbohydrates every time you eat. As a result, your blood sugar stays more balanced, which prevents high and low blood sugars. 

In either case, the worst things you can do are skip meals or go longer than five hours without eating (unless you are sleeping).

Megan Porter, RD/LD
Contributing Expert

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