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To Snack or Not to Snack?

A review of the best available science examining the impact of eating frequency on both weight and health.

September 12, 2012 |
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To snack or not to snack, a review was recently published on the accumulated research about eating frequency and both weight and health. Maybe we should eat throughout the day to reduce hunger, increase our metabolic rate, mobilize our body fat, or… maybe, snacking will just lead us to overeat. What, does the science say?—what do you think? A few big meals a day or smaller more frequent meals throughout the day for weight management and optimal health?

According to the best available science? It… doesn’t matter. “Overall current evidence does not suggest that manipulating eating frequency greatly benefits weight and health.” What we eat is more important than how often we eat it.

If you do like snacking, though, a new study thanks to the California Prune Board suggests that—what else—prunes may be a particularly good choice given the “satiating power of prunes, which they found—like with nuts, to compensate for the majority of their calories.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

That was a quickie! This is not the first time we've run across the Prune Board. Remember their appearance in Dietary Guidelines: With a Grain of Big Salt? For a comparison of dried fruits, see Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol (the graphic of which sneaks into the intro of Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death) and Better Than Goji Berries. Nuts are also super healthy snacks. See Fighting Inflammation in a Nut ShellWhat Women Should Eat to Live Longer, and Nuts and Bolts of Cholesterol Lowering.

Please check out my associated blog posts for more context:  The Anti-Wrinkle Diet and Best Dried Fruit For Cholesterol 

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

    That was a quickie! This is not the first time we’ve run across the Prune Board. Remember their appearance in Dietary Guidelines: With a Grain of Big Salt? For a comparison of dried fruits, see Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol (the graphic of which sneaks into the intro of Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death) and Better Than Goji Berries. Nuts are also super healthy snacks. See Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell, What Women Should Eat to Live Longer, and Nuts and Bolts of Cholesterol Lowering.

    If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Valnaples

    And if you DO choose to have a snack, say of prunes, is it better to include some small amount of protein too? Palmful of seeds or nuts? Any thoughts? Thanks!

    • Toxins

      I see no purpose in this but if you wish to go for it!

    • http://profiles.google.com/museredux dm conner

      If he’s running, he can handle some fructose.

      Ha! Why am I assuming veganrunner is a he!

    • Tommasina

      Valnaples,
      From Dr. Greger’s video on eating dried fruit, nuts,
      or fruit and nuts together
      (http://nutritionfacts.org/video/do-fruit-nut-bars-cause-weight-gain/),
      it seems you could eat dried fruit and/or nuts–as long as you’re not
      adding sugar–and it would have no effect on your weight. Hope that
      helps!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

    This is news to me. In the bodybuilding world, or mostly athletic world, we’re told to eat smaller meals several times a day — usually the number is six. I assume the study in the video pertains to regular, non-active people?

    • Veganrunner

      I have found professionally inaccurate information is pass on from gym rat to gym rat. I worked in many of gyms before finishing my studies. I am not really sure where they get their info.

      I am an “active” person and 6 meals a day? Nope, unless you count a handful of nuts a meal.

      It appears it doesn’t make a difference.

      • stacy

        Veganrunner, mind if i ask what your daily meals specifically consist of?  Im newly vegan and need help designing a vegan diet that supports athleticism and muscle gain.  Seeing what u do successfully would really help!

        • Veganrunner

          Hi Stacy, 

          Sure. Well I just got back from running 8.3 miles. Before my run I drank a smoothy of spinach, blueberries, mango, strawberries, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, alma, green tea, hibiscus, cashews ginger and enough water to make the blades spin and so I can pour it. About 20 oz. I find the smoothy sits best before a run. I alternate that with steal cut oatmeal and many of the above things plus cinnamon. I just need more time before my run if I eat oatmeal. 

          For lunch I usually have a very large green salad with lemon and a smidge of olive oil. Or maybe some leftovers from the night before. Or maybe rice cake with tomato and avocado. 

          For dinner I generally have various vegetables, quinoa etc. Large salad etc. I made the best miso soup with mushrooms, seaweed and tofu the other night. We are huge beans and rice fans with fresh salsa and corn tortillas. 

          For snacks I might grab a handfull of walnuts or almonds. I also like to keep sautéed tempeh in the fridge so if I feel like I need a bit more protein I cut a slice off and eat that. 

          I hope that was helpful. I have teenage kids so I am always looking for recipes that they won’t complain too much about! :-) And I find most recipes can be adjusted to be vegan. 

          • Veganrunner

            Muscle gain? Are you a body builder? 

            Keep in mind “specificity of training.” I do really well running with my diet. You may need to tweak it a bit if you aren’t getting the results you want. I would probably add more nuts. (I believe that has been Dr. Furhman’s recommendation to his athletes.) 

          • stacy

            Thanks so much!  Look really healthy!

            How many cals are u able to get?  What about macronutrients (grams and %)?

            Are u gluten-free?

            Do u think that soy is healthy?  If so, how much is good to have per day?

            And what about protein powders?  Which are the best?

            Opinion on nutritional yeast?

            Lastly, do u believe in food combining principles?

            Thanks!!!!

          • Veganrunner

            I don’t really pay attention to calories or % but I would say I eat a lot. But a lot of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and grains. I try to get as much of a variation as possible. 

            Yes I am gluten-free. 

            I eat very little tofu (soy) and I don’t drink soy-milk. Tofu one time per month? I don’t really like it that much and it doesn’t sit well with me. It is a processed food so verdict is out on whether it is healthy or not?  But sometimes there are good recipes with tofu so I try them. Like a vegan tofu mayonnaise for example. 

            I don’t use protein powders because I eat such a variety of foods that I am sure I am getting the required amount. However there is a pea protein powder that looks interesting. Just peas and I think 23 grams of protein per serving. 

            I do some things with nutritional yeast. Unique flavor so more savory dishes I think. I like it. Reminds me of cheese. 

            I have read a lot about combining food principles and I actually really enjoy Dr. Gillian McKeith but I haven’t read any great research about it so no. How about you? 

          • http://profiles.google.com/museredux dm conner

            Okay. Wow. And you take b12, of course.

          • http://profiles.google.com/museredux dm conner

            And you get enough protein? I guess if you aren’t lifting, you can do less.

          • Veganrunner

            Hi dm, yes I take B12. We get more than enough protein in our diets. If your goal is to lift weights to increase muscle mass you just need to lift weights. My morning smoothy has about 25 grams of protein and that is without any kind of protein powder. I weigh 120 so eating 60 grams would be on the high side. I occasionally add pure pea protein powder but I really don’t need to.

  • Veggie247

    It would be interesting for the good doctor to do a similar segment on the benefits (or lack thereof) of perodic fasting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CelesteMarieBarbier Celeste Barbier

    Good to know. Some people can be so adament in regards to their beliefs on numerous meals throughout the day. They can be so rigid in their regimented eating structure that their days are often set up so that they are in a constant state of drinking water and eating meals throughout the day. I am simply NOT the kind of person that wants to do that all day. I am trying to get my mind off not eating, not worrying about eating on a regimented schedule. The types of foods, not the frequency is my main concern. I really appreciate knowing that their recommendations are not mandatory for my health.

  • Amanda

    I eat 3 bigger meals AND snacks, and my Bmi stays at 19.5. I sometimes eat more, or less, it makes indeed no difference. I do eat healthy food all the time and no junk.

  • peace888

    Hi Dr. Greger,

    Thank you for all that you do. We couldn’t do it without you.

    Is it true that when nuts are roasted at temperatures above 170 degrees Fahrenheit, the monounsaturated fats can breakdown, and free radicals & acrylamide can form?

    Just wanted to let you know that you are appreciated.

    Thankfully,

    Andy

  • Sebastian Tristan

    Actually, how you eat is important. If you take the same amount of calories and spread it in smaller portions throughout the day, you will lose more weight. This is not a peer-reviewed journal, but in my case and in the case of people I know who follow this, it does work: http://www.menshealth.com/weight-loss/diet-strategies-increase-metabolism

  • Arvind Bhave

    are there any good studies published in peer reviewed journals about the ‘Fast Five’ system of eating? Does the system make any metabolic sense acco to you?