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Is Snacking Making You Fat?

If you've been gaining weight in recent years and wonder why, you may simply be eating much more than you think you are. In the late 1970s, Americans consumed roughly 3.8 meals and snacks per day. The daily average is now 4.9, up some 29 percent in about 30 years. Those 4.9 meals and snacks add up to 2,375 calories per day - about one-third more than the average consumption in the '70s. Experts point out a contributing factor being the near-constant availability of food - 30 years ago, we didn't see junk foods displayed at the gas station, the drugstore and most other places we go from day to day. The new data comes from an analysis of four nationally representative food surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1977 and 2006. Research also shows that even rats get fat and show signs of diabetes when they can graze cafeteria style on snack foods. In a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, snack-grazing rats grew heavier than rats consuming a high-fat diet containing lard.

My take? These findings make sense. I don't think there's any escaping the fact that a big part of the obesity epidemic is over-consumption of low quality snack and junk foods. However, I don't blame snacking itself. Eating very small portions between meals is actually a good idea, as it can help keep blood sugar levels and energy steady, which leads to improved mood, better productivity and more effective appetite control. But if you're trying to lose weight or to eat a healthier diet, that convenient bag of chips can sabotage your efforts. Processed foods contain too many calories, the wrong kinds of fat and carbohydrates, and have too much salt and too many additives. Instead, plan snacks ahead of time and make sure you always have healthy ones on hand: fresh or dried fruit; raw, unsalted nuts (pistachios, cashews or walnuts); flavorful natural cheeses and dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa solids are all good options.

Read more: How to Eat in Seven Words

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Reader Comments (4)

It's too bad that snacking equals junk food for many. As you point out, healthy snacks can be very beneficial. Actually, healthy snacks and eating enough throughout the day is what helped me stop overeating at night (which had led to weight gain).

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Yes, the habit of eating in between meals is the main reason of putting on weight. The lesser you eat in between meals the lesser extra body weight you gain.

September 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHealth Blog

This topic really is about two things. Snacking and eating junk food.

We all know that snacking on junk food is a bad idea, but whether we should eat, even healthy foods, between meals is controversial. There is the school of thought, Dr. Weil mentions, that we need to keep our blood sugar steady by eating every few hours throughout the day. There are also those who say we should stick to eating at meals only, and that snacking is hard on the system. (Dentists also worry about snacking unless you brush your teeth after snacks as well as meals!)

Consuming too many calories will make us gain weight, but does it matter whether those calories are eaten as 3 meals, or if they are eaten as 3 meals and two or more snacks?

September 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuzy


If you are prediabetic, diabetic, gestational diabetic, have PCOS (poly cystic ovary syndrome), or have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia); then it is better to break up your day's calories into smaller meals and snacks to help with better blood sugar control.

A typcial diabetic meal plan requires frequent small meals and snacks (is also carb controlled, high fiber, low fat, and includes daily exercise). And folks with high triglyerides also benefit from a diabetic meal plan.

With a diabetic meal plan, it's recommended to not go longer than 4-5 hours without eating. If there are large gaps of time between meals (or if meals are skipped) then usually larger portions are eaten, which often leads to higher blood sugar (and multiple heatlh problems overtime). Thus, small healthy snacks spaced at least 2 hours apart from a meal are recommended.

Cheers, (from a carrot loving, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator)

September 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermorecarrotsplz
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