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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 00:26 GMT
'Little and often' cuts cholesterol
Regular meals are the healthy option
Eating more often can reduce cholesterol levels, researchers have found.

The finding suggests that we need to consider not just what we eat, but how often we eat.

It seems that it might be more healthy to split up meals into smaller amounts and eat them more frequently

Professor Kay-Tee Khaw
A high level of cholesterol in the blood is one of the major causes of heart disease. The fatty substance can clog up the arteries, placing more strain on the heart.

The researchers quizzed over 14,000 men and women aged 45-75 years about their eating habits.

They separated each person into one of five groups depending on how often they ate.

A blood sample from each person was then tested for fat levels.

Cholesterol concentrations

Cholesterol concentrations were approximately 5% lower in men and women who ate six or more times a day compared with those who ate once or twice a day.

This was despite higher intakes of energy - including fat - in people who reported eating more frequently.

The effect held good when other possible factors, such as alcohol consumption and physical activity, were taken into consideration.

Although not large, this difference in cholesterol concentration is comparable to that achieved in studies involving alteration of intake of dietary fat or cholesterol.

It is also associated with reductions in coronary heart disease ranging from 10% to 21%.

The researchers say that such reductions could have a substantial impact, particularly in older people, who have higher rates of heart disease.

The reason why regular eating reduces cholesterol levels is not known.

One theory is that the body responds to relatively long gaps between meals by becoming highly efficient at storing up energy whereas a routine of regular meals encourages a more steady metabolism.

Animal studies

Lead researcher Professor Kay-Tee Khaw, of the Institute of Public Health at Cambridge University, told BBC News Online that there were animal studies showing those that ate infrequently were able to absorb sugars more readily into their blood.

They also showed a greater activity of the enzymes used to manufacture cholesterol.

She said: "The number one thing to say is that all the advice about healthy eating holds good.

"People should eat more fruit and vegetables, and moderate their intake of saturated fat.

"But it seems that it might be more healthy to split up meals into smaller amounts and eat them more frequently."

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

See also:

03 Aug 01 | Health
Cholesterol warning for elderly
13 Nov 01 | Health
Heart drugs could save thousands
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