Beating the fourhour hungries

Throughout the world, the cycle of hunger (namely, of glucose rising and falling) prompts a feeding schedule that generally provides four meals during the day: breakfast, lunch, tea (a mid-afternoon meal), and supper.

In the United States, a three-meal-a-day culture forces people to fight their natural rhythm by going without food from lunch at noon to supper at 6 p.m. or later. The unpleasant result is that when glucose levels decline around 4 p.m., and people in many countries are enjoying afternoon tea, many Americans get really testy and try to satisfy their natural hunger by grabbing the nearest food, usually a high-fat, high-calorie snack.

In 1989, David Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., and Tom Wolever, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, set up a "nibbling study" designed to test the idea that if you even out digestion — by eating several small meals rather than three big ones — you can spread out insulin secretion and keep the amount of glucose in your blood on an even keel all day long.

The theory turned out to be right. People who ate five or six small meals rather than three big ones felt better and experienced an extra bonus: lower cholesterol levels. After two weeks of nibbling, the people in the Jenkins-Wolever study showed a 13.5 percent lower level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) than people who ate exactly the same amount of food divided into three big meals. As a result, many diets designed to help you lose weight or control your cholesterol (what? you haven't got a copy of Controlling Cholesterol For Dummies? Impossible!) now emphasize a daily regimen of several small meals rather than the basic big three. Smart cookies. Low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-cal, of course.

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