Americans are snacking more than ever and evidence is mounting that it is a major driver of our bulging bellies. To investigate the effects of consuming excess calories from three larger meals vs. three meals plus between meal snacks, scientist assigned 36 lean men to either a normal calorie (weight maintenance) diet or a high calorie (weight gain) diet for six weeks. The group assigned to the high calorie diet consumed their food as three larger meals or as three meals plus between meal snacks. In both the high calorie groups their total daily calories consumed remained the same. The only difference was in how frequently they ate.
As expected, both of the high calorie groups gained weight, but there was a noted difference in where they gained their fat. Those eating the more frequent feedings (meals plus snacks) gained a significant amount of belly and liver fat, while those consuming the three larger meals with no snacks did not. These findings are important because they support that eating more frequently drives the build up of liver and belly fat, which is the type of fat that can be deadly.Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now the most common chronic disease in America, affecting about 30% of the population, including some children. Even some “skinny” people have significant amounts of liver fat and NAFLD. When I was in Medical School 25 years ago, NAFLD was not even in our text books. It is an entirely new medical malady unquestionably related to eating too much of the wrong foods too often. If you snack, limit it to no more than a single mid-afternoon snack. (Hepatology, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/hep 27149)