May 28/The New Zealand Herald -- Eating smaller meals more often does not help overweight people shed their kilograms any faster, says research that debunks a popular dieting myth.

Dietitians have tested the commonly held theory that splitting daily food intake into five or six snack-type meals accelerates fat-burning.

A study of 179 obese Australians showed no weight-loss advantage from following such a diet.

"There seems to be little benefit to changing how often or how regularly you eat if you're trying to lose weight," said lead researcher Michelle Palmer, a dietitian at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales.

"We found it's not when you eat that matters, but what and how much you eat."

The study involved 179 obese men and women who were all on the same healthy, weight-loss diet and with the same kilojoule intake, but with differing eating patterns.

One group ate three times a day, while the other added three extra snacks to try to keep metabolism boosted throughout the day and speed up fat-burning.

Results showed no difference in changes in weight, waist measurement, body fatness or blood sugar levels between the groups.

Palmer told a dietitians' conference on the Gold Coast this week that the findings should end debate on the advantages of snacking and focus Australians back on keeping dieting simple.

"Many people find it hard enough to stick to a healthy eating plan to lose weight, let alone worrying about any suggested benefits of snacking or not snacking," she said.

Dr. Tim Crowe, a nutrition specialist at Deakin University in Melbourne, said the research dispelled a "faddish dieting trend."

"It's popular advice, yet there's been very little research to show it actually helps with weight loss.

"It's rubbish. In fact, there's some research to suggest playing around with when you eat may cause you to put weight on."

He said dieters should be discouraged from making drastic changes to their eating patterns, but do what works for them.

"It's best if they focus on how much they're eating and of course what they're eating.

"Six small days at McDonald's clearly isn't going to help you lose weight."

The last national nutrition survey in Australia found 56% of adults eat twice to four times a day, and 37% eat five to seven times daily.

From the June 9, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash