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Cholesterol worries? Nibble more on less.

For years, the American Heart Association has urged us to eat less fat - especially saturated fat. What more can a diner do? Nibble.

All other things being equal, a new study shows, when people apportion their calorie ration for the day over nine meals instead of the standard three, two major risk factors for heart disease drop: concentrations of both total and "bad," or low-density-lipoprotein (LDL), cholesterol in the blood.

Earlier studies suggested that more, smaller meals might offer such benefits. But those studies tended to use "a quite impractical meal frequency" - 17, in one case - notes Jim Mann of the University of Otago in New Zealand. Moreover, says Mann, an author of the new report, those studies sometimes included as few as five subjects - often just men - who ate institutionally prepared meals, sometimes in a hospital.

The Otago team recruited nine men and 10 women for a pair of two-week, at-home trials involving a balanced, low-fat diet - each deriving just 30 percent of its calories from fat. With help f rom a comprehensive nutrient list for foods (given in 70-calorie portions), each subject decided how to meet the diet's energy and nutrient limits.

In one trial, people ate 25 percent of the day's calories at breakfast, 25 percent at lunch, and most of the rest at dinner. Though recruits could snack twice a day, these supplements could total only 140 calories. On the other, equal-calorie diet, volunteers ate every hour or two. Six snack-size meals throughout the morning and afternoon contained 8.3 percent each of the day's calories. The three evening meals each contained twice as many calories.

Compared to the three-meal diet, the nine-meal diet saw total concentrations of cholesterol in the blood fall 6.5 percent and LDL cholesterol fall 8.1 percent. If every I percent drop in total cholesterol corresponds to a 2 percent drop in heart-disease risk, then "there could be a mean 13 percent reduction [in risk] when meal frequency is increased from three to nine meals per day," the researchers conclude in the March American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Stephen C. Cunnane of the University of Toronto coauthored - and participated in - the earlier, 17-meal-per-day trial. Though it yielded impressive drops in cholesterol, he notes, "you were dying to go off that program as soon as it started." The new study he says, gets "essentially the same result" with an easier regimen.
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Title Annotation:study indicates eating nine meals per day lowers cholesterol in the blood
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 13, 1993
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