Â Â by David Grotto, RD, LDN
Somewhere between the rigidity of eating three meals a day with nothing in between and the self-indulgence of mindless snacking is a middle ground called grazing. Now research from the University of Texas at Austin says that grazing is a good thing — in fact, the more frequently people eat, the more likely they are to be healthy.
Using data from the American Time Use Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report found that those who spread the amount they eat over more time have a body mass index (BMI) that is 0.2 lower, on average, than those who spend less time eating… and they also have better self-reported health. While the difference in BMI is not huge, for a person of average height it results in a few pounds less weight.
Good Grazing… Bad Grazing
You might think that this studyâs findings go against the grain… after all, isnât too much eating the cause, in part, of weight gain and many health problems? But science supports grazing, says David Grotto, RD, LDN, a former spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. “When there are large gaps of time between meals, the body goes into a self-preservation mode, reserving calories and storing fat,” he explains. “If you eat more frequently, your body ratchets up metabolism and burns calories. Also, when you graze, you’re less apt to overeat at the next meal.” Note the really important part of what Grotto said — eating more frequently… not eating more.
I asked Grotto to share some suggestions on how to keep grazing healthful. First and foremost, he says, it is important to stay aware of what and how often you eat. “Don’t think you can simply graze to your heart’s content,” he says. “Research clearly shows that calories consumed shouldn’t be greater than energy spent if you are to avoid gaining weight.”
The best grazing foods, he says, contain protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats and/or slow-digesting, complex carbohydrates. These will make you feel fuller than other foods, and you’ll be inclined to consume fewer calories. Nuts are a good choice as they contain monounsaturated fats, which take a long time to digest. One study showed that women who ate one to two ounces of nuts a day lost more weight and kept it off longer than women who did not eat nuts. To avoid monotony, mix a variety of nuts (almonds, walnuts and pistachios, for example) with oat cereal, dried fruit and dark chocolate. Keep some handy in a resealable bag and eat a few at a time. Also healthy are snacks like apple slices, cheese and whole-grain crackers, and peanut or almond butter.
It’s important to note that Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, registered a dissenting opinion on the greatness of grazing: “It isnât necessary to eat all day to keep the body supplied with a steady stream of healthful nutrients. If you donât skip breakfast, lunch or dinner… consistently make smart dietary choices… and take the time to chew thoroughly during meals, youâll digest your food more completely, have a steady stream of nutrients coming into your body from the gastrointestinal tract, and not feel the need to graze.” However, he added, if you canât seem to fit in three healthful meals a day, a certain amount of grazing may be a good short-term solution.
David Grotto, RD, LDN, a nutrition counseling consultant and former spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of 101 Optimal Life Foods (Bantam). He is based in Elmhurst, Illinois.