Just in time for the Christmas holidays: It has been discovered that people who eat frequently have lower blood cholesterol levels than those who eat once or twice a day – even if they eat more food, according to a new study carried out by scientists in Norfolk, England.

Kay-Tee Khaw, a professor of clinical gerontology at the University of Cambridge, carried out the research after animal studies showed ?gorgers? had higher cholesterol levels than ?grazers.? Despite higher intakes of fat, people who ate six or more times a day had cholesterol levels five per cent lower on average and a reduction in coronary heart disease of 10 to 21 per cent.

The study of 14,000 people aged 45 to 75 years involved asking participants how many times a day they ate, including meals and snacks. Their concentration of blood fats was measured and the results were adjusted to account for body mass index and cigarette smoking.

?Animals that gorge have a huge insulin peak after eating, which induces hepatic enzymes that produce cholesterol. The evolutionary reason for this may be that this type of animal expects a famine so needs to store energy as cholesterol,? says Khaw.?We wanted to look at a free-living human population to see if our metabolism worked in the same way.?

The researchers believe that if everyone ate this way, there would be significant reductions in heart disease, worldwide. ?We need to consider not just what we eat but how often we eat,? they say. Khaw says that the best advice remains to eat a healthy diet, but adds, ?People at risk could divide up what they usually eat into several smaller meals — perhaps eating every two hours.?

Sara Stanner, a nutritional scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation says, ?People perceive snacking as being bad for you, but as this study shows, it needn?t be the case, especially if you snack on low-fat foods like fruit.?

Let?s hope that includes fruitcake.

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