If you ask anyone in the health profession how often you should eat, you will most likely be told to eat 5 to 6 small meals spread out over the course of each day. The reason for this recommendation is that eating more frequently will help maintain blood sugar and insulin levels. This is important since stable blood sugar levels help the body to function more efficiently. This, in turn, keeps hunger at bay since your body is consistently in a feed state. However, it is not necessarily the number of meals you have but the amount of time between them and the types of foods that you eat that will determine how well your body works.
Pick the Right Foods
The types of foods you eat for meals and snacks will play a role in keeping your body in balance and feeling full. Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates--such as cookies, candy, regular soda, and sugar-laden foods--will cause blood sugar to rise quickly and then crash down, leaving your body to feel hungry again. The way to avoid this is to select foods with carbohydrates that are high in fiber and nutrients. A good way to select carb-laden snacks is to start with a whole food and choose bright colors. Brightly colored foods are usually high in antioxidants, which have many health benefits. Along with a complex carbohydrate, meals should include a lean protein and healthy fat to help your body feel satiated.
Eat Less, More Often
Eat these small meals no more than 4-5 hours apart to also help maintain a feeling of fullness. This is usually why the recommendation of 5 to 6 small meals a day is touted as best since most people wake up early and go to bed late. Instead of trying to eat exactly 6 meals a day, it is more important to concentrate on portion sizes and how your body is feeling as a gauge for when you should eat. This is especially important if your health goals include weight loss. Eating every 4 to 5 hours, maintaining smaller portion sizes, and incorporating complex carbohydrates will help you stave off hunger so that you can stick to your healthy eating plan.
Eat Like a Kid
A good way to create quick and healthy snacks is to revert back to being a kid. Parents are always trying to find ways to make healthy, tasty, and portable snacks for their kids. For example, one of my favorite snacks growing up was Ants on a Log (celery sticks filled with natural peanut butter and raisins on top). This is a snack that you can prepare the night before and put in the fridge. When you are run out the door in the morning, just toss it in your bag to munch at work.
Here are some more easy, fill-you-up snack ideas:
- Whole grain crackers with cheese
- Trail mix with dried fruits and raw nuts
- Half of a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and mustard
- Whole wheat roll with tuna fish, spinach, and peppers
- Non-fat Greek yogurt with fresh berries
- Apple with low-fat string cheese
- Baby carrots with hummus
- A banana rolled in almond meal with cinnamon
Grete R. Hornstrom is a Clinical Dietitian who is currently specializing in pediatric care. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Physical Education with a concentration in Exercise Science from Kent State University, a Master of Arts in Wellness Management from Ball State University, and a Master of Science in Dietetics from Ball State University. She has worked with overweight children and adults, recreational and elite athletes, chronically ill children, and every day people on developing nutrition plans and healthy lifestyle changes. In addition she has worked with recreational teams, high school teams, and college teams educating them on the importance of nutrition and performance. She has completed one marathon and three half marathons in the last two years. Her newest sport of choice is cycling.