Longevity expert says snacks weaken our health

A leading longevity researcher says eating too often can lower our resistance to chronic diseases.

“It’s not just about what we eat that matters to our health – it’s also how often we eat and when,” Professor Luigi Fontana told Nine. “Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of three meals a day and snacks. The way we eat has changed and our eating frequency has increased without any physiological reason. People snack even if they’re not hungry.”

Prof. Fontana says our bodies aren’t designed to eat too many times a day.

“Each time we eat, we produce insulin to control our blood glucose – and one effect of turning insulin on too often is that it inhibits the processes that help repair damage to the body’s cells.

“We know that when cells accumulate damage, they’re more vulnerable to diseases, including cancer and dementia.”

He recommends putting gaps between meals without snacks, so insulin isn’t “prodded” into action. This will “kick off molecular processes that enhance DNA repair and clean up cells”.

If you eat an early dinner and don’t snack before bedtime, you give insulin activation a good break.

Prof. Fontana says proper meals will keep you from getting hungry enough to feel you need a snack.

“My meal portions are huge, but they include a lot of different vegetables, legumes, nuts and minimally processed whole grains, so there’s always lots of fibre. This creates so much bulk in your stomach that you feel super full for longer.

“If you do need a snack, eat something like an apple, a handful of blueberries or a couple of carrots – food that’s slowly absorbed and leads to less activation of insulin.”

Read more: Inflammatory diets linked to 27 diseases

Prof. Fontana, author of The Path to Longevity, says if he has a snack in the afternoon, it’s just a piece of fruit. He says his house does not contain sweets or biscuits.

He says it’s time to get over our obsession with eating for weight loss and focus more on eating to maximise our health.

“The real question we should ask is not ‘How can I drop some kilos?’, but ‘How can I avoid developing chronic diseases as I age, and live a longer, healthier and fulfilling life?'”

Dr Edward Bitok, assistant professor, nutrition and dietetics, at Loma Linda University, told insider.com that the wait time between meals should be between three and five hours because that is “the average time it takes for the stomach’s contents to be emptied into the small intestine after a standard meal”.

Nutritional expert Dr Priya Khorana agrees that waiting three to five hours between meals ensures a true appetite has returned to sustain the body “instead of just eating out of habit or as an emotional response”.

Waiting any longer can cause “lack of focus, acidity, irritation (hangry), shakiness, low energy, low blood sugar levels and eventually, overeating”.

Read more: Fibre rich diet boosts mood

Nutritionist Kate Freeman told the healthyeatinghub.com that snacking is considered useful for weight loss because digesting food boosts metabolism. But this ‘thermic effect’ makes up only 8 per cent of overall energy expenditure.

She says lifting weights and exercising regularly boost metabolism much more.  

“It’s always better to have an eating plan that is easier to stick to than worry about whether or not your eating habits are ‘boosting’ your metabolism. You will lose weight if you are controlling your energy intake to be less than your energy expenditure regardless of how often you eat.”

That’s because “weight loss is not dependent on how often you eat or how large or small your meals are; it’s dependent on your energy intake being less than your energy expenditure over a prolonged period of time”.

“You will not lose weight if you do not maintain a negative energy balance over the long term,” she says.

Merely skipping meals won’t help you lose weight either because it sets you up to overeat.

One trick for weight loss is to eat foods high in fibre or protein as they tend to be more filling, says medicalnewstoday.com.

“This means a person will feel satiated faster and may eat less at each snack time or meal.”

10 nutritious snacks (eatingwell.com)

  • almonds
  • grapefruit
  • chickpeas
  • grapes
  • dark chocolate
  • popcorn
  • yoghurt
  • hummus
  • oatmeal
  • dried fruit.

How often do you eat during the day? Do you snack because you are hungry or because you are bored? Do you choose nutritious snacks?

Read more: Diet that affects the heart

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Written by Will Brodie

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