To snack or not to snack?

To snack or not to snack? That is the question…

Do you remember the days when it was encouraged to eat small amounts of food all day long? The concept of six small meals daily or 3 meals and 3 snacks is still encouraged in some circles. Snacking or frequent meals may be indicated for some people at some points in time. However, I typically do not recommend snacking between meals for adults. If kids need snacks based on their age, activity level, or metabolism, then I encourage low glycemic vegetables, high protein and high fat snacks.

People sometimes feel like they need to reach for a snack because they are not including enough healthy fats and protein into each meal. Fats satiate hunger for longer periods of time since they are slower to be digested and absorbed. Fats and proteins also help to stabilize blood sugar levels to avoid the “crash” in energy, concentration, and mood that can lead to thinking a snack is necessary.

Another reason to avoid snacking is that it interferes with the normal function of the migratory motor complex (MMC), opening a window of opportunity for bacteria to proliferate in the small intestine. This can result in Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).   The MMC cleans the small intestine by moving bacteria from the small intestine into the colon. This cleansing wave occurs approximately every 90 minutes during a fasting state.   Since SIBO is a significant cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as other disorders, I now recommend all adults fast for 3-4 hours between meals and 12 hours at night.

Preventing dental caries is another reason to avoid snacking. It is particularly important to avoid snacking on high sugar foods and simple carbohydrates (fruit, fruit juice, sweetened beverages, candy, crackers, breads, muffins, chips, popcorn, pastries, etc.). After eating any form of sugar or fermentable sugars that come from carbohydrates, teeth are being damaged for a period of about 20 minutes. This occurs through a process of pH changes leading to acidity. How frequently sugar and fermentable carbohydrates are eaten has an even greater impact on the formation of cavities than the amount that is eaten.

The only time that I suggest people eat between meals is when they are experiencing episodes of low blood sugar levels. The answer to this dilemma is not simply to eat more often. It may be necessary to eat more frequently for a period of time, but the long term goal is to correct the cause of the hypoglycemia. As liver function, pancreatic function, and hormonal balance improve, most people are able to go longer periods without food in the absence of hypoglycemic symptoms.

Have you given up snacking? Share your experiences with us!