Parikh NutritionBlog

Practical, simple, and evidence-based nutrition and diabetes information.

To Snack or Not to Snack

Should you snack every two hours?

Have you been told to eat every 2-3 hours a day to balance blood sugars, increase metabolism and lose weight? This is common advice still given by health professionals. Small frequent meals were thought to balance blood sugars, increase metabolism and help with weight loss. ⠀

The opposite is true. Eating small frequent meals can raise your blood sugar and keep insulin high. When insulin is high, the body stores away calories as fat. Research has shown that small meals (and snacks) are not necessary. In fact, it can lead to blood sugars spikes and has very little impact on raising metabolism.

Spacing your meals and snacks by 3-5 hours, instead, is better for balancing blood sugars, and reducing insulin which will lead to less fat storage.

Spacing meals and snacks 3-5 hours apart can also be critical for gut health. It allows the gut to complete a routine cleaning completed by the migrating motor complex (MMC) and it is one of the body’s most important mechanisms for proper digestion. The MMC is likened to a housekeeper, it clears out any food particles from the small intestine after meals and snacks.

The MMC cycle is initiated when the stomach is not busy digesting. The length of the MMC cycle appears to vary between individuals and can vary on a daily basis. The duration of the cycle is believed to range between 90-130 minutes; however, some research shows it could be as long as 230 minutes (up to 4 hours). The MMC stops when eating begins.

The best way to support the function of the MMC is to give sufficient time for the cycle to finish which is usually 3-5 hours between periods of eating.

Here are tips to get started with meal spacing: ⠀

  1. Eat balanced and filling meals. Include protein, fat and fiber at each meal and snack to stay full and keep blood sugars balanced.
  2. Hydrate in between eating periods.
  3. Try having 3-hour gaps between eating to start and work up to 4-hour gaps.
  4. It’s okay if sometimes you have to eat in 2 hours. That’s life!

Sources:

  1. Deloose, E., & Tack, J. (2016). Redefining the functional roles of the gastrointestinal migrating motor complex and motilin in small bacterial overgrowth and hunger signaling. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 310(4), G228–G233. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpgi.00212.2015
  2. Ma, Z. F., & Lee, Y. Y. (2020). Small intestine anatomy and physiology. 101–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-813037-7.00007-8

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