“Eating every couple hours is healthier for you. It keeps your blood sugar stable.”
“Athletes and body-builders NEED to eat every couple hours to boost calorie intake and refuel.”
We’ve all heard these claims. Yet, after looking at the science of how our digestive system works, they don’t make much sense.
But before we get into what science says, I do want to clear some things up.
Snacking IS sometimes necessary and might even be recommended by a functional medicine doctor if you are struggling with certain health conditions such as healing from adrenal fatigue or hypoglycemia. That is of course the exception. However, if you are not battling a health condition such as these then this article is for you!
Secondly, the claim that eating every few hours keeps your blood sugar stable IS true if you burn glycogen. However, the latest research is showing that it for optimal health it is best to train your body to burn BOTH glycogen and fat. Our ancestors ran on a high fiber, high fat, low carb diet for thousands of years. It’s been only in recent years that a high carb, high sugar, low fat and low fiber diet has become normal. More on that in another blog post.
Anyhow, if you train you body to burn fat, you will not have the blood sugar dips from insulin plummeting two hours after a meal.
Something to consider.
Okay. Now let’s get into why snacking may not be best for your health. But first, let’s do a little review on how digestion works!
I. Digestion 101
Food Enters Mouth:
Upon seeing delicious food, your eyes send messages to your stomach and begin to produce digestive juices. Our olfactory nerves in our nose detect whether or not you should eat the said food when you ‘smell the food’. How do we smell food? Interestingly, smelling is accomplished when we breathe in small minute molecules from said food that actually travel through the air.
After taking a bite, our salivary glands immediately go to work, breaking down our food. Saliva is pretty incredible. It contains natural painkillers to ease the fire-alarm system of our nerve-sensitive mouths. One of those painkillers, called opiorphin, is known to be even stronger than morphine. Among other things, saliva also contains a generous amount of beneficial microbes. That’s right, we have specific microbes that live in our mouth that protect us from bad bacteria entering the rest of our body.
Our saliva works together with the jaw, tooth enamel (the hardest substance made by your body) and tongue to prepare the food to be swallowed. After swallowing, the chewed food makes it’s way down your one-inch wide esophagus which is lined with immune tissue. The peripheral nervous system works in tandem with the unconscious autonomic nervous system to safely transport your chewed bite from the mouth to the stomach.
Now… the stomach:
Your stomach sits fairly high in your abdomen, beginning below the left nipple and ending around the bottom of your right ribcage. Of course, you would expect your esophagus to enter into the top of the stomach but instead it enters somewhere into the stomach’s side. The shape of your stomach is somewhat lopsided as the right side is a little shorter than the left. One side digests liquids best while the other is responsible for handling the solids.
Onward to the Small Intestine:
Your food now enters one of the most highly detailed, meticulously clean organs of your body, the small intestine. It’s anywhere from 10 to 20 feet long and resides below the stomach in your abdominal region. Your liver and pancreas produce digestive juices which are injected into the small intestine through the walls by pappilla. These digestive juices contain a variety of enzymes that break down protein, fat and carbohydrates.
The walls of your small intestine look similar to the consistency of velvet under a microscope. There are rows of tiny finger-like structures called villi which move in little waves. There are approximately 20,ooo villi per square inch of your small intestine! To get even more detailed, on each villi, are similar finger-like structures called micro-villi. Each micro-villi contains a blood vessel, a tiny capillary, which absorbes the nutrients from your food and sends those molecules to your liver.
Why so many folds and villi, and micro-villi? Because the small intestine is responsible for the brunt of the work in breaking-down and absorbing your food. Therefore it needs as much surface area as possible. In fact, if all the villi, micro-villi and the surface area of the walls of your small intestine were to be ironed out, it would measure approximately 4 1/2 miles!
II. What Happens When You Snack
Depending on what you ate, your stomach will take varying lengths of time to break things down and digest. For example, your stomach will work on breaking down a piece of steak for close to 6 hours! Then it will send it to the small intestine for another 5 hours of digesting! Wow! That’s a LONG time!
After your small intestine has finished digesting whatever you just ate and both the stomach and small intestine are empty, everything explodes into a flurry of motion. Your small intestine is very powerful little housekeeper and likes to get things cleaned up immediately after digestion. It’s little villi will absorb nutrients from any remaining bits of food and then, like a broom, will sweep any remaining food into the large intestine. This whole process is scientifically called the “Migrating Motor Complex”.
In fact, when you hear your belly “rumble” and “growl”, it’s actually not your stomach at all making those noises. Instead your small intestine going about it’s busy work of cleaning everything out in preparation for the next meal. So don’t be tricked into thinking those belly noises are signals that you should eat again. Quite the contrary.
Instead, know that your little housekeeper is at work.
This Migrating Motor Complex is very necessary to help prevent pathogenic overgrowth such as SIBO from developing in your small intestine. If you keep eating every few hours, then your small intestine will not get the necessary time it needs to sweep everything clean and prepare for your next meal.
III. What To Do About It
Instead, follow these few tips to maximize your digestion and prevent the occurrence of SIBO or other pathogens from growing in your gut.
- Allow a good 4 to 5 hours between meals for your housekeeper to do it’s job.
- Eat Animal Protein at Lunch and Go Vegetarian for Dinner. (Remember, a steak takes on around 6 hours to be broken down in the stomach and an additional 5 hours in the small intestine. That’s not counting it’s time in the large intestine.)
- Go Cyclical Keto. That means eat mostly plant based high keto 5 days a week and then carb load 1 to 2 days a week. This will train your body to not only burn fat and but have the ability and resiliency to dip into burning both fat and glycogen. This will solve your low-blood sugar “hangry” dilemma and take away your desire to snack.
Thanks for reading!
1. Enders, Giulia. Gut: The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. Scribe, 2015. Print. pp. 86-92.