3 or 6 meals/snacks a day?
There are so many conflicting opinions out there in regards to the frequency of meal times. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before; eat small frequent meals to decrease hunger and increase exercise to lose or maintain your weight. Alternatively, don’t snack; stick to main meals only, snacking leads to overeating. It really is a confusing topic, to snack or not to snack?
Eating is complicated!
Whilst research has taught us so much in terms of nutritional composition, health benefits of particular nutrients and the benefits of nutrition towards overall health, it unfortunately has not assisted in providing us with a clear answer in terms of what is best when looking at the frequency of meals.
Eating 3 meals, 6 meals or somewhere inbetween, how frequently you eat is really up to you! In the last decade we’ve seen a real shift towards a grazing style of eating compared to that of more traditional approach of eating 3 meals a day. The Australian Guidelines for Healthy Eating, is exactly that, helping you to make choices for a healthy diet by providing you with food guidelines and recommendations regarding serving sizes dependent on age, gender and physical activity. What they don’t tell you is how frequently to eat and that’s because there is no one straight answer.
A 2011 literature review looked for scientific evidence regarding the impact of controlling eating frequency on weight management. Research is divided on the topic, with arguments for and against snacking and very limited studies looked at the longer term, which is vital when it comes to dietary adherence and maintenance of weight. There is also much confusion about what constitutes a snack and a meal. The ‘eat regularly’ recommendation is vague and may not suit everyone, and consequently it has to be a decision that works for you. For example, some people struggle to manage food quantities, so telling them to eat regularly can lead to them eating far more calories than needed.
Your food intake is the most important factor, not how frequently you eat. Snacking can be a perfectly healthy choice, provided control is made over what and how much food is eaten in each sitting.
Does snacking lead to weight gain?
Yes and no! What we do know is that weight gain is caused by your energy intake exceeding your energy expenditure. As I have mentioned in my previous articles, excess snacking can lead to weight gain, of course this is typical when someone is consuming high calorie, nutrient-poor foods but it doesn’t always have to be this way!
Snacking can actually be beneficial for some people, for example people with diabetes can benefit from regular food intake to help maintain blood sugar levels, or if you are very physically active, your working muscles may need carbohydrate snacks being frequently made available. Children should also snack between meals due to their fast metabolic rate and rapid growth that they undergo. A study looking at 233 adults in a worksite wellness program, found that eating frequency were unrelated to diet quality or Body Mass Index (BMI), rather it found that snack choices were actually related to the quality of one’s diet or their BMI. Research may conflict each other in terms of whether snacking aids or hinders weight loss, but snack quality appears to be the key factor in terms of improving food choices.
Snacking whilst maintaining a quality diet.
I’ve said it time and time again, practice mindful eating! Turn off the TV, sit down with friends or family and enjoy your meal, truly savour it! When you make the right food choices and stick to portion sizes, then whatever way you decide to eat, can only benefit you!
If you decide that snacking is for you, then these tips may help maximise your overall intake.
1. Stick with the basics!
2. Watch your portion sizes, this may mean buying single serve items or cooking just enough for one meal or as I like to, cook up and freeze individual portions for later on.
3. Incorporate missed food groups at snack times, most people don’t eat enough vegetables for example, so adding these to your snacks boosts up your vegie intake!
1. Vegetables should come first: raw, baked, sautéed, stirfry, dish them up however you like!
2. Yes that means vegetables as snacks too! You can dip carrots, celery, cucumber in a homemade hommus or low-fat yoghurt for some variety.
3. Enjoy fruit as a snack.
4. Try adding some beans, they are a great source of fibre!
5. Stick to leaner proteins, chicken, fish, lean meat
6. Low fat dairy; yep that’s cheese, milk and yoghurt!
To snack or not to snack, it’s whatever works for you!