It’s a longstanding debate without a clear answer: 3 vs. 6 meals per day…which is better?
Ask a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym and chances are, he’ll tell you: “Eat six small meals per day.”
Look to Women’s Health magazine or Dr. Google for a revving metabolism, and chances are, you’ll hear the same thing.
But then again, three square meals per day is also the human standard—at least culturally speaking: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner works for many people too.
Should you or shouldn’t you snack?
Answer: It all depends.
WHY WE SNACK
Essentially, snacks are intended to be mini-meals that tide us over to the next meal if we’re feeling weak, hungry or fatigued.
Snacks boost energy—a good thing.
However, snacking becomes not such a good thing when it becomes emotional, habitual, or throws off our blood sugar balance in our body.
Instead of listening to our body we snack:
- We snack because we’re bored
- We are sad, so reach for something sweet to pick us up
- We are lonely, and a pint of Halo Top ice cream or our
- We are anxious, so turn to Animal Crackers, almonds or something crunchy to calm our nerves
Instead of checking in with our energy levels or our hunger-fullness, we snack because:
- We snack because the clock says “it’s snack time”
- We typically don’t eat enough at our meals (often restricting), and thus snacking is necessary
- We fail to prepare, and often run into the same dilemma most days (lack of meal prep, planning or food availability—so we reach for whatever)
- When we see food, we eat food or crave food—no questions asked
Blood Sugar Imbalance
Lastly, snacking “gets the best of us” when our blood sugar levels are all over the place.
Snacking frequently creates blood sugar imbalances by demanding more on the body’s glucose (blood sugar) levels as well as digestive system.
Imagine a roller coaster.
When the body is trained to eat small meals every 2-3 hours, blood sugar levels crank up the track, only to eventually come flying down (which is typically when we will experience the need to nap, get a headache or crave sugar or coffee).
So what do we do?
In order to spike our blood sugar once more, we reach for the coffee, the sugar, the trail mix, the granola bar, the vending machine—something, anything, to get us back to our “baseline.”
…Only to, 2-3 hours later, have another crash, and need another mini-meal again.
Couple this with a digestive system that is constantly being demanded to work (the bulk of the digestive process is a 4-6 hour process that happens in the small intestine), and our body is trained to to run off of quick sources of energy first (sugar, mini-snacks, constant fuel) since these foods are generally quicker to digest—instead of fat or energy stores.
In other words: Our body is conditioned to crave sugar or snacks more often for quick sources of fuel.
And the beat goes on.
It’s a never ending cycle.
Snacking is NOT a bad thing, however, when it turns into one of these 3 issues (emotional eating, habitual eating or blood sugar imbalances), it’s important to check-in with ourselves:
Am I snacking emotionally or habitually?
Am I eating enough?
WHY WE MAY NOT NEED TO SNACK
A look at our human ancestors, before Halo Top or RX Bars became a “thing,” reveals most humans ate 2-3 times per day and ate to fuel and satisfaction a balance of plants, fats and proteins.
When and if we eat enough for our body throughout the day, our body gets the fuel it needs and has less demand on our blood sugar levels to need snacks to make it through the day.
We stay fuller longer and train our energy systems to run off of fats (granted we are eating fat) over sugar—giving us longer lasting energy overall.
We also allow our digestive system enough time to process our last meal with less frequent habitual snacking, allowing for all around better digestion and absorption of our nutrients as the digestive system can fully push food through the small intestine in order to make room for the next food into the pipeline.
Again, snacking is NOT a bad thing (and there WILL be times and days when snacking is necessary), but if we are consistently finding ourselves hungry, hangry, or with headaches or low energy levels between meals, we may need to check in with ourselves on if we are truly fueling our body appropriately.
WHY WE MAY NEED TO SNACK
Certain goals or health issues may require snacking as part of a healthy nutrition plan for your body.
Individuals who come to mind include those with:
- Severe digestive distress and inability to tolerate normal sized meals
- Trying to put on some healthy weight (sometimes an extra small meal or smoothie can help)
- Recovery meal plans from malnutrition and eating disorders
- Transitioning from a 6 meals-per-day routine to 3-meals-per-day (sometimes a weaning phase of transitioning to 3 meals + 1-2 snacks can help the body readjust)
- Sport Performance to support training above 60-minutes per day (often times an added snack or two can boost performance. Food IS fuel, and is part of eating enough)
- Times when you didn’t eat enough at one meal that day or you genuinely are hungry
The Bottom Line: The “eating 6 meals per day” mantra to “boost metabolism” is a myth.
Snacks are NOT a bad thing, but aim for 3 balanced meals with proteins, vegetables, fats, some starches and fruits— and snack only as needed (not as an ultimatum or because emotion or habit “says so”).
(Thrive Tip: Eat a protein and/or fat with your snacks to help kick cravings to the curb and balance blood sugar).
If you do find yourself hungry for a mini-meal between meal time, here are 45 BEST SNACK IDEAS to keep you satiated and energy boosted (BONUS: Most of these are AIP-friendly).
45 Snack Attack Ideas:
- Watermelon or Melon wrapped with Proscuitto
- Kale Salad with Cranberries + Pumpkin Seeds
- Green Smoothie or Juice—add in collagen peptides or Vanilla Protein Powder for a protein base
- Chocolate or Vanilla Protein Powder + Lite Coconut Milk
- Berries + Coconut Butter
- Orange + Ham/Turkey Rollups
- 1/2 Avocado + Sea Salt
- Cucumber + Tomato (optional) Mint + Olive Oil/Vinegar
- Coconut Yogurt or Full-Fat Organic Plain Yogurt
- Homemade Chiaseed Pudding (Wellness Mama) or Banana-Coconut Pudding (AIP) (PaleoPi )
- Coconut Water + Handful Nuts/Seeds or Turkey Jerky Stick
- Peel & Eat Shrimp
- Colesaw with Paleo Mayo + Diced Apples + Organic Bacon diced (optional)
- Turkey/Bison Meatballs + Primal Kitchen Honey Mustard
- Chicken or Tuna Salad with paleo mayo (avocado oil mayo) or mashed avocado
- Turkey, Beef or Salmon Jerky
- Dill Pickles wrapped in Nitrate-free Deli Meat
- Spinach-Artichoke Dip + Veggies
- Chicken “Nuggets” (coconut flour) or Drumsticks
- Bone Broth + 1 Tbsp. Grass-fed Butter
- Chicken or Turkey Sausage (Applegate Farms patties) + Sauerkraut or Kimchi
- Collard Green Wrap + Deli Meat or Chicken
- Lox with Cucumbers
- Salmon Patty + Tzatiki Sauce
- Leftover Protein
- Homemade Collagen Protein Bars
- Cauliflower Popcorn (homemade)
- Raw Nuts/Seeds or Tigernuts (AIP)
- Apple or Apple Chips + Coconut Butter or Almond Butter
- Celery + Sun-butter + Raisins
- Baby Carrots/Cucumber + Guacamole
- Plantain Chips + Nitrate-Free Salami or Guacamole
- Kale Chips
- Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips or Siete Tortilla Chips + paleo Ranch or guacamole
- Homemade Zucchini Chips (drizzled with olive oil or avocado oil)
- Plantain Crackers or Simple Mills Crackers + Ghee, Guacamole, Ranch
- 1/2 Banana + Melted Coconut Butter or Almond Butter
- Cinnamon-Coconut Apple (green apple + coconut oil + cinnamon-warmed)
- Homemade Paleo Banana (Empowered Sustenance)
- Zucchini Bread (Further Food)
- Avocado Carob Mousse (The Curious Coconut)
- Coconut Kefir + Frozen Blueberries
- Frozen Yogurt (Autoimmune Wellness)
- Chocolate Collagen Bites (Unbound Wellness)