Counseling Sheet

Snacks and Eating Between Meals

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

If people eat between meals, they are less likely to obtain a balanced diet, according to studies that have been done among university students. Adding to the probability of an unbalanced diet, eating between meals causes certain physical problems. It will become obvious that the best pattern is that of eating regularly scheduled meals and then faithfully abstaining from eating until time for the next scheduled meal.

The digestive tract prepares itself to receive a meal. Beginning with the salivary glands, the entire digestive tract prepares the digestive juices to be of good strength and adequate in quantity. This preparation requires a tremendous expenditure of chemical and physical energy on the part of the body. If a regular mealtime pattern has been developed, the preparation for meals will be made precisely on time. If the meal is delayed, or is more than an hour early, the preparation for digestion will be out of synchrony with the meals, causing that great expenditure of energy to be lost, which weakens the body, makes it more susceptible to infections, and promotes incomplete digestion of food.

Eating between meals, even nibbling a few peanuts, causes stagnation of food in the stomach. X-ray studies done years ago using contrast media showed that a little eating between meals delays stomach emptying by many hours, even up to 14 hours or more. The stasis of material in the stomach promotes gastritis and peptic ulcer, since as long as food is present, the stomach will be putting out large quantities of acid and pepsin. These are powerful digestants and their overproduction is likely to cause the stomach to become weakened and produce peptic ulcers. In order to avoid stomach disease, the stomach needs to finish its work in 2 to 4 hours after the meal and rest for an hour or two before getting recharged for the next meal; therefore, one should allow five or more hours from the end of one meal to the beginning of the next, with nothing eaten between.

Snacks are usually of poor quality. Those who eat snacks are more likely to use fried foods (the poorest way to prepare foods), to use food of inferior quality, sweets and "empty calories." Potato chips are expensive, whereas potatoes used as mashed or baked potatoes cost are cheap. Snacks are expensive!

The more frequent the between-meal snacking, the greater the number of cavities that one has at each new visit to the dentist. The number of cavities the dentist will find can be predicted with fair accuracy by the number of snacks taken each day. Both overweight and underweight are more common in those who snack between meals. The number of calories can be increased by several hundred daily by simply eating a small quantity between meals. Only 100 extra calories daily are capable of adding 10 pounds per year to one's weight. The best course for anyone who is fighting the battle of the bulge is to leave off all foods between meals. Underweight is also best treated by a mealtime pattern, as foods can be more efficiently digested and assimilated by the underweight person if he uses a regular meal schedule.

Allergies are more common among those who snack between meals. Not only is the variety of possible allergens greatly multiplied, but the likelihood of producing toxic chemicals in the digestive tract by inefficient digestion is also increased by eating between meals. Since the stomach is more vigorous in the morning, it is recommended that the largest meal of the day be breakfast. The second largest meal should be dinner, a meal taken in the early or mid-afternoon.

If a third meal is taken at all, it should be light and early, and described as supper. A light meal would be equivalent to a piece of bread and a small dish of fruit. One should never go to bed with undigested food in the stomach. Heavy foods empty slowly from the stomach, oil being the slowest, only one teaspoonful per hour.

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