Monday, June 27, 2011

To Snack or Meal?

They say there was a time last century when we used to eat three meals a day and we should have been thankful for that many because kids were starving in Africa. I suspect they were talking about working adults between 1901 – 1970. I doubt whether kids, teenagers or housewives would have existed on three meals only. If they could sneak a biscuit, leftovers or some bread and dripping they would have gone for it.

Snacking & weight & diabetes

Today, for most readers, food is abundant and affordable and available 24 hours a day. That has led to the question from reader Ken Lynn regarding whether it is better for our weight and health to snack through the day or go back to the three meals a day like grandpa did.

A review by nutrition experts in Australia has looked at the research on snacking and health. There was no clear indication whether snacking had any long-term influence on body weight.

It has been theorised that snacking helps control the appetite and reduce hunger. Nice theory, no evidence. Others have suggested that snacking may cause over-eating, but most studies suggest we compensate to balance the kilojoules in the long-term whether we meal or snack. In other words, we tend to over-eat but snacking doesn’t seem to be the cause.

Snacking doesn’t appear to increase your chances of getting diabetes, nor did it seem to help control blood glucose if you had diabetes.

Snacking & the heart

On the other hand, people who snack and maintain their weight seem to have lower blood lipids (eg blood cholesterol and triglycerides). This link has been known for two decades or more, but we are reminded that these studies haven’t gone for longer than two months, so we don’t know the long-term effects. That’s the consistent problem with human studies of this nature is that they don’t go for long because they are so expensive to run.

Also remember that these types of studies don’t generate profits for a company. For example, if snacking was proven to reduce the chance of a heart attack, it won’t change the nutrition message – if you snack, snack smart on fruit, healthy sandwiches, low-fat, low-salt food bars etc. You see, no quick profit for anyone there because the message is the same.

So what is a snack?

Inherent in many eating research studies is that there is no definition of a snack. That cheese and salad sandwich may be a snack to you, a nibble to an elite athlete, but it might be a meal for grandma. You may recall that I discussed the confusion of snacks vs meals in an earlier blog.

What does it all mean?

I think it is still fair to say that, no matter when or how frequently you eat, your health and weight depends on what you choose to eat. Whether you __meal it__ or __snack it__ will be dictated by how you feel and what suits you. I breakfast, then snack, then finish the day with a meal. Perfect for me, but maybe not for you. In the US they say that snacking will become the norm.

Ken says he is 65 years and wants to crack 85 years. Well Ken, I reckon with a few smart food choices you can make 99 years. It is wise not to make it to 100 because dopey journos have nothing more original than to ask your secret to longevity.

If I ever make it that far my answer would be: “Secret to longevity? Air. Keep alternating an inhalation with an exhalation. Now get lost while I eat my cake.”

Reference: Nutrition & Dietetics 2011; 68: 60-64

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