Lorn Healthy Options weekly health tip – March 17

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Snacks for weight loss, maybe not

For years, the weight loss industry has pushed the idea that snacks in between meals help weight loss.

This approach formed part of my weight loss advice until recently, but it is important to review scientific research and question if accepted principles need a re-think. So, eat more to lose weight? Maybe not for everyone.

Why would snacking potentially help people lose weight? The idea was that a snack in between meals would prevent a significant drop in blood sugar levels which could lead to eating larger amounts of calorie dense food at the next planned meal.

Research is showing this is not the case for those suffering with obesity as the additional calories consumed at the next planned meal do not exceed those attributed to the snack. The other problem is our choice of ‘snacks’ tend not to be the greatest food choices and sometimes what is advertised and marketed as a healthy choice is anything but.

Snacks containing considerable levels of refined carbohydrates can raise our insulin levels and leave them higher throughout the day.

Insulin has several main functions. It acts as the key which opens doors in muscle tissue allowing blood sugar to enter cells allowing excess energy to be converted to and stored as fat. Yes, insulin creates fat.

Regular consumption of carbohydrates will leave our insulin levels high for prolonged periods throughout the day and our body can become resistant to the effects of this important hormone. Provide the body with regular and high exposure to any drug and we develop resistance, whether that be insulin, antibiotics or some form of illegal drug.

In time you will need more of the drug to elicit the same response, so high insulin levels lead to insulin resistance and the result is more insulin being secreted from our pancreas. High insulin levels promote obesity and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

By not snacking, we provide our body with several periods during the day when our insulin levels will naturally drop which improves our sensitivity to the hormone. It also reduces our overall calorie intake.

So when Granny warned us not to snack between meals, she may have been on to something. It is okay to feel a little hungry several times a day and it may help tip the scales in your favour.

Does exercise improve this situation? We know regular activity has more benefits than I have room to tell you about here, but one of those important adaptations is an increased sensitivity to insulin. Tackling obesity requires us to look at a wide range of issues that are driving this condition in our modern world, but if your body weight has stagnated or been increasing slowly over time and regular snacks are part of your daily routine, you may want to try a different approach.

Rob Graham, lead exercise professional, Healthy Options.