By Mackie Shilstone

As most of us were growing up, we were raised on the concept of eating three square meals a day -- breakfast, lunch and supper. This is the way our parents were raised and the way their parents were raised and probably their parents before them, as well. As we grew up we simply accepted this as the norm and when we had children of our own we began passing it on to them.

However, there is another school of thought on this subject that has gained credibility in recent years. There are many who believe that five or six smaller meals a day may be just as practical as three meals a day or possibly even more so. For people with average needs, three square meals may be the best way to go. On the other hand, those with special conditions such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or patients still recovering from gastrointestinal surgery may need to eat more often but with a lower food intake each time. Obviously, someone who has had part of their stomach removed can't tolerate large volumes of food. In special cases such as those cited, the individual's physician would make a recommendation as to which is best.

The nutritional quality of what we eat or what we use to supplement our diets is much more important than how frequently we eat. Over the past few decades there has been a trend toward low-fat foods and beverages but some authorities believe that the emphasis may be misdirected. The real culprit may well be sugar. The body can handle only so much of it before it turns to fat.

One would think that, with all the low-fat awareness over the past twenty to thirty years, we'd be seeing a reduction in coronary diseases, but it isn't happening. So, it's possible to conclude that it isn't how much you put into your body but rather what you put into your body that's most important. The quality of the food you eat is more important than how often you eat.

For smaller meals I recommend healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and I advise staying away from candy bars and soft drinks. Whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, various types of nutrition bars, whole grain cereal with low-fat or 1% fat-free milk and other types of food or snacks that are high in proteins and fiber content are the best things for you. I also recommend multiple vitamin and mineral supplements to make up for the vitamins and minerals we're not getting from the foods we eat.

If you lean toward the five to six meals a day concept, make sure that those meals are balanced and they contain enough substance to make you feel full but not uncomfortable. The thing you want to do is keep your blood sugar levels stable and not go more than three to four hours without eating, but you also want to make sure that what you eat is healthy.

So, as for which of these two options is best, it depends on the individual and what his or her needs are. Many people who are "on the go" these days find it difficult to eat even three meals a day and they may resort to snacking in between those meals but not necessarily at regular intervals. My advice is to go with whatever best suits your needs and fits into your schedule but, regardless of which schedule you choose, above all make sure what you're eating is healthy. If you have any doubts as to what's best for you, ask your doctor during your next checkup.