The Paleo approach to meal frequency

Furthering our discussion of postprandial (after-eating) phenomenona, including chylomicron and triglyceride "stacking" (Grazing is for cattle and Triglyceride and chylomicron stacking), here's a comment from the recent Palet Diet Newsletter on the closely related issue, meal timing and frequency:

We are currently in the process of compiling meal times and patterns in the worlds historically studied hunter-gatherers. If any single picture is beginning to emerge, it clearly is not three meals per day plus snacking ala the typical U.S. grazing pattern. Here are a few examples:

--The Ingalik Hunter Gatherers of Interior Alaska: 'As has been made clear, the principal meal and sometimes the only one of the day is eaten in the evening.'
--The Guayaki (Ache) Hunter Gatherers of Paraguay: 'It seems, however, that the evening meal is the most consistent of the day. This is understandable, since the day is generally spent hunting for food that will be eaten in the evening."
--The Kung Hunter Gatherers of Botswana. "Members move out of camp each day individually or in small groups to work through the surrounding range and return in the evening to pool the collected resources for the evening meal."
--Hawaiians, Tahitians, Fijians and other Oceanic peoples (pre-westernization). 'Typically, meals, as defined by Westerners, were consumed once or twice a day. . . Oliver (1989) described the main meal, usually freshly cooked, as generally eaten in the late afternoon after the day’s work was over."

The most consistent daily eating pattern that is beginning to emerge from the ethnographic literature in hunter-gatherers is that of a large single meal which was consumed in the late afternoon or evening. A midday meal or lunch was rarely or never consumed and a small breakfast (consisting of the remainders of the previous evening meal) was sometimes eaten. Some snacking may have occurred during daily gathering, however the bulk of the daily calories were taken in the late afternoon or evening. This pattern of eating could be described as intermittent fasting relative to the typical Western pattern, particularly when daily gathering or hunting were unsuccessful or marginal. There is wisdom in the ways of our hunter gatherer ancestors, and perhaps it is time to re-think three squares a day.

In other words, the notion of "grazing," or eating small meals or snacks throughout the day, is an unnatural situation. It is directly contrary to the evolutionarily more appropriate large meal followed by periods of no eating or small occasional meals.

I stress this point because I see that the notion of grazing has seized hold of many people's thinking. In my view, grazing is a destructive practice that is self-indulgent, unnecessary, and simply fulfills the perverse non-stop hunger impulse fueled by modern carbohydrate foods.

Eliminate wheat, cornstarch, and sugars and you will find that grazing is a repulsive impulse that equates with gorging.

The full-text of the Paleo Diet Newsletter can be obtained through You can also read and/or subscribe to the new Paleo Diet Blog, just launched in November, 2009.

Comments (12) -

  • Kevin

    11/24/2009 3:18:05 PM |

    I can't rememeber exactly when but several years ago a melting glacier uncovered a 5000 year old man in the Pyranees area. He was dubbed 'Oetzi'.  Since he carried a bow and arrow and kit with seeds he was certainly a hunter-gatherer.   It's logical that he was hunting and carried seeds to sustain him during the day.  But he died of an arrow attack so possibly he was killed for the game he had found, or perhaps by a tribe mate wanting to move up the social ladder.  Who knows.  


  • Adolfo David

    11/24/2009 4:10:24 PM |

    And what about 3-4 small high fat (Omega 6 free) low carbs (no glycemic) meals during the day? Its for example my case

  • KENNY10021

    11/24/2009 5:23:26 PM |

    Plus grazing would result in higher levels of digestive acid present in the stomach more often. More acid, more often.......This too is it not?

  • Richard Nikoley

    11/24/2009 7:58:11 PM |

    Excellent data, doc.

    I rarely eat anything big during the day, and almost never before 10am. It's now 12:00 noon and I'll be headed for an intense workout at 12:30 lasting for 30 minutes and will include a lot of pushing weight around. I may eat a bit in the afternoon, but most probably will have a large meal this evening.

    This approach has worked wonders in terms of body comp and especially, hunger. I'm just almost never ravenous as I was with all the junk, which I think is the root cause of the grazing dysfunction.

    Also, note that it's probably far easier for them to keep their minds off food when they're busy hunting and gathering it.

  • UofMWolverine81

    11/24/2009 9:54:10 PM |

    ting caught up on what meal frequency or timing is "best" and shift the focus toward ensuring an adequate micro and macronutrient intake that supports your goals and lifestyle?

    If I am highly active and making quality food choices that fall in line with that activity level, it seems like there wouldn't be anything inherently wrong with eating 4-6 small meals/snacks per day .  That's not to say that 1 or 2 relatively larger meals wouldn't work as well, but I can't see there being much overall difference provided overall daily intake is roughly equivalent (if not the same) and and the focus is on undamaged fat sources, lean protein sources, plenty of vegetables, and a modest intake of fruit (especially things like berries).

    Some folks find that various styles of intermittent fasting work best for them when it comes to controlling intake, and others have found that a higher number of smaller feedings work better. So while I do not dispute the wisdom in observing patterns from various hunter-gatherers, I don't feel that mirroring their patterns is something that fits my lifestyle and individual tendencies.

    Of course I could be living with my head in the sand and the joke is on me, but I figured I'd just offer up my general thoughts.  I am far from being an expert on these issues.

    In any event, thank you for sharing this post, Dr. Davis.

  • Helen

    11/25/2009 12:21:24 AM |

    I'm against grazing (especially since it's usually crap that people graze on), but I do have a question about this.  I recently read that the rate of strokes increases during Ramadan, which mirrors this pattern - a large evening meal every day.

    My father used to just eat one big meal a day at night.  He had a massive heart attack in his 50s.  He ate a lot of meat, butter, eggs, and bacon grease.  I doubt that all of that caused it - I think the primary cause was his two-pack-a-day unfiltered Camels habit.  But all of that didn't prevent it, either.

  • The Mick Solomons Experiment

    11/25/2009 1:59:47 AM |

    I've found going down to 2 main meals a day, and only eating between 11am and 6pm that my body fat has dropped considerably.  

    I was stuck on about 70kgs for 12 months after starting a high fat, low carb diet, since I've started IF I've dropped nearly a kg of body fat a week for the past 6 weeks (you can see photos on my blog) And I know its body fat because I'm maintaining and even increasing the amount of weight i'm lifting at the gym.

    I also feel great too Smile

  • Kathryn

    11/25/2009 2:44:44 AM |

    Then, why the insistence, heard over & over that breakfast is so important?  My body just doesn't seem to want something early in the day, & i've been trying to trust instinct.  But then i wonder if it is just a habit i've gotten into?  

    I'm not eating a lot of calories & i eat no wheat (on rare occasion i break this, but have been 95% gluten-free for about 4 years or more).  But no weight loss.  I sometimes wonder if it is because i'm resistant to having breakfast.  

    I really don't understand.


    11/25/2009 4:18:43 PM |

    I borrow here from the Diabetes community. Blood sugar spikes may be the root cause of or a major contributor to Type 2 diabetes. The bigger the meal the bigger the spike. Most of us that have endured the SAD for most of our lives are well on our way to Type 2 (in my opinion) even after taking to the Low Carb WOE. Thus we are damaged goods and probably would be well advised that if we eat fewer meals per day, we should test the effects on our blood sugar. I do this. Blood meters are dirt cheap. Low carbing no doubt helps but does not assure "no spikes".

  • Methuselah

    12/3/2009 2:16:43 PM |

    Kathryn, the answer to your question "then why the insistence" is because the people who are doing the insisting are basing their advice on little or no real evidence, just pseudo science and old-wivery. Don't confuse exposure with validity. Bad ideas very often get more air time than good ones and the world of medicine and nutrition is rich with examples.

  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 6:40:00 PM |

    I stress this point because I see that the notion of grazing has seized hold of many people's thinking. In my view, grazing is a destructive practice that is self-indulgent, unnecessary, and simply fulfills the perverse non-stop hunger impulse fueled by modern carbohydrate foods.

  • mike

    5/29/2012 7:35:12 PM |

    If the typical hunter-gatherer tribe eats only once a day and if humans can only absorb around 35g of protein at one time, this would mean that even H-Gs eating very high protein diets would ACTUALLY be on very low protein diets. This is huge no?