It's been said over and over again that eating small, frequent meals is helpful to your health. Many people argue that having small frequent meals causes overeating, and justifies grazing. So which is it?
Eating often is better, if you can control your choices and keep track of them. Following the rule of eating complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and a source of healthy fat together, while managing the portions is key. Here are the reasons why eating often is a great lifestyle:
Your brain runs on glucose
It's true, the brain can only use glucose for energy. That is one explanation for the afternoon or mid-morning fog, and the crankiness associated with low-carb diets. It's also the reason why cognitive function in kids decreases when they go long periods of time between meals.
Blood sugar is normalized when you eat healthy choices every 2 to 4 hours
Having a snack gives your body the energy nutrients it needs to function (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.) The release of insulin into the blood when you have a snack brings blood sugar to a normal level. If you eat protein and fiber with your snack or meal, the release of carbohydrates into the blood stream may be slowed, and the release of insulin is slowed in response. This allows for more even energy levels.
TEF is the energy it takes to digest and absorb food
The TEF, or thermic effect of feeding, burns up to 10 percent of your daily calories. Metabolism is something everyone wants to make faster! Eating healthy snacks and meals, often, can increase this energy burn, and therefore increase total daily calories burned. While the increase is rather minimal, snacking has multiple effects on how many calories you burn in a day.
Snacking, not grazing, helps you feel better, so you are more likely to workout
If you read my blogs regularly, you know that somehow, I always manage to squeeze in the exercise piece! Keep in mind, burning more calories isn't as important as making your body more efficient. With exercise, you train your body to use fat for energy and keep your blood sugar normal. This is helpful to your energy level, not to mention the effect of feeling accomplished!
You'll make better choices
Everyone knows that when you're hungry, it is harder to make a rational choice! Whatever is in the cupboard will suffice, even if that means salsa and chips straight out of the bag. If you eat often, you will be less hungry, and may never feel the need to binge on something unhealthy.
Remember, snacking means you are making a conscious effort to eat something balanced, with complex carbs, lean protein, and possibly some healthy fat. It helps to sit down and use a plate or utensils with your snack. Grazing is more of an emotional way of eating, and is much less helpful, if not harmful. Examples of grazing that most people can relate to are going back to the cupboard for another handful of crackers or eating chips out of a bag in front of the TV.
Try one of the following simple balanced snacks or meals to help make the most of your efforts to stay healthy and energized:
- Greek yogurt with fresh fruit to dip
- Small box of raisins mixed with a 100-calorie pouch of nuts
- 2-3 cups of light Popcorn (such as Vic's Light/Half Salt) mixed with 2 tablespoons of peanuts
- Tuna salad in a pouch/cup with 1-ounce whole grain crackers
- Low-fat string cheese with a slice of deli meat wrapped around
- Baby carrots with hummus