I’m going back to my roots. After posting articles during November about Daylight Savings Time, the US Election, Pharmaceuticals, and Black Friday, today I’m going to write once again about my favorite subject, food. Based on my observations, people simply don’t know how to eat. That may sound like a funny statement because we all eat every day, and it is a task that is essential for our survival. Well, you may know how to eat, just put food in your mouth and chew, but do you know how to eat properly for efficient digestion and optimal health? The quantity, frequency, timing and combination of your food are all important factors affecting your digestion. Believe it or not, I could probably write an entire chapter on how to eat, but instead of that, today we will focus on a topic that is confusing to many people, snacking.
We’ve all heard the theory that it is important to snack many times per day to keep our energy levels high, but is that even true, and where did it come from? If you think about it, the frequent snack theory appears to be adapted to high performance athletes. Imagine a professional football player who spends the whole day lifting weights, running, and training for his job. The amount of energy expended by a professional athlete must be several times more than what you expend sitting in your cubicle and tapping on that keyboard. Frequent snacking seems appropriate for such a physically demanding lifestyle. Somewhere along the way sports nutrition got confused with the nutrition of the average person. Perhaps it was an improper dissemination of information through the media, or our fascination with professional athletes. Many of us obsess over our favorite athletes; we wear their jerseys and spend billions of dollars following them weekly, so it’s not difficult to imagine their diet strategies crossing over into the average person’s life. Another possibility is the source of funding for research. How much money is available to research the nutritional needs for producing a star athlete versus the nutritional needs for helping an average person reach their true potential? Perhaps the government can fund some research, but corporations heavily influence governments, and do corporations bring in revenue by selling wholesome breakfasts, or by selling snack packs? Regardless of the origin of the multiple snack theory, and the role of sports idols, money and politics; we have access to an unbiased source of information for guidance on how to eat. According to Ayurveda, a traditional preventive medicine system from India, the average person should practice a diet of minimal snacking.
2 meals per day
To understand why minimal snacking is the suggested diet of Ayurveda, one only needs to have a basic understanding of digestion. Digestion is at the core of Ayurveda because good digestion is thought to be essential for having good health. Ideally a person would wait until their previous meal was completely discharged from their stomach before eating the next meal, but if you are snacking 3-5 times per day there are simply not enough hours in a day to do this. Generally speaking, it should take at least 3 hours for your stomach to be empty, so if you ate every 3 hours beginning at 6am and ending at 9pm that would be 3 meals and 3 snacks. With a schedule like that some problems become immediately apparent. It is unlikely that you are eating on an empty stomach if your schedule consists of eating 6 or more times per day. If your stomach is completely empty then you must be either eating small meals or easily digested carbohydrates and sugars, and we have all been hearing lately of the dangers associated with diets high in sugar. Your digestion should improve if you wait until your stomach is completely empty before consuming the next meal, and as a result your overall health should also improve. To completely digest each meal then you will have to eat less frequently which of course means less snacking. One great strategy for eating less frequently is to eat large meals containing more slow burning fuels such as oils, fibrous vegetables, and perhaps some meat if you are not vegetarian. As you are increasing the amount of slow burning foods, try decreasing the fast burning foods such as sugar, flour, grains, and in some cases fruit. For an excellent and detailed description of what this meal looks like read Todd Caldecott’s article about breakfast. A large breakfast such as this allows me to go 6 hours without eating, and during those 6 hours I enjoy the benefits of a slow sustained release of energy without the inconvenience of having to interrupt my busy day to find more food. Ayurveda recommends eating twice per day, and the only practical way for a person to do that in this modern world is to make sure your two meals are large and dense enough to power you through the day.
Goodbye low fat diets
As we emerge from the failed war on dietary fat into a world of obesity, diabetes and cancer we can look to the past for guidance on moving into the future. Ayurveda is a valuable source of traditional knowledge that is not contaminated by money or politics. People would have never chosen the frequent snack theory if the low fat theory didn’t exist. It is difficult to snack all day if you are eating high quality fats because quite simply, you will not be hungry as often. So as we say goodbye to the low fat era we should also say goodbye to the high snack era. Unless you happen to be a high performance athlete, try eating like me, a radical snactivist.