There are many ideas about what is best when it comes to frequency of eating. Smaller more frequent meals and ‘grazing’ have become trendy in recent years. The theory is that if we eat less but more frequently it reduces the load on our digestive systems. However, this theory is flawed. In fact, eating this way can actually put your digestive tract under more stress.
Of course, when it comes to digestion we are all different. Also things are different across a person’s lifespan. The digestion of a baby will be different to an elderly person. What follows will be most relevant to adults.
To understand the importance of eating frequency, it is a good idea to understand the basics of our digestive tract.
The first, and often overlooked, part of digestion is the visual aspect. This begins the preparatory phase – getting the body ready for digestion. If you watch food ads on TV and your stomach begins to rumble, you will know what I mean.
Smelling food comes next and helps to stimulate the digestive enzymes. Again, you are probably aware of what the smell of delicious food cooking does to your stomach.
The next part happens when you get the food in to your mouth. Saliva production really kicks into gear when the chewing begins. If your grandparents told you to chew each mouthful 32 times then they were speaking words of wisdom. Not everything needs this level of chomping, but it gets you thinking about really chewing the food. This is much better than just inhaling food, as we can tend to do.
Next stop is the stomach. This is where the food meets hydrochloric acid and is broken down further. Food is typically in the stomach for two hours, but this can be longer during illness or after overeating. When the stomach has done its thing, the food passes into the small intestine. The small intestine is about 20 feet long and food takes about four hours to travel through it.
The food then goes through the large intestine, which is about five feet long. This is the slowest stage of digestion and may take up to 40 hours, depending on what you have eaten.
The point of describing the time for digestion is so we can understand what happens if you eat too frequently. It is ideal to give the digestive tract a rest from digesting – at least with respect to the stomach and most of the small intestine. So five to six hours between meals is ideal. Nevertheless, if you are diabetic or have hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars) this may not be appropriate.
Of course, to be able to do this you will need to eat a balanced meal. This should include protein and real whole grains to give you the energy needed to keep going.
Eugene Sims, Warkworth Natural Therapies