To Graze Or Not To Graze?

The benefits of eating whole meals opposed to grazing throughout the day.

In This Article

It’s Not Really A Question

According to ancient Ayurveda, eating is best done during daylight hours. Interestingly, science is now suggesting that the most common eating pattern in modern society – 3 meals plus snacks every day – is abnormal from an evolutionary standpoint. (2)

There is an old saying that goes, “When the sun goes down, the cooks go home.” After hours, the ability to digest food becomes much more challenging for your body. Eating after hours also disturbs the action of our biological clock, upsets your glucose homeostasis and puts us at risk for potential obesity. (1, 6)

The New Research On Meals vs. Grazing

New research suggests that our genes are highly circadian, and that we are designed to eat at certain times of day – not all day. (3) If you feed the body when the genes are not in digestive mode, the body will store that meal as fat, as a form of long-term storage. If you feed the body when the genes are in a digestive mode, they will use the food more efficiently as fuel, instead of storing it as fat. (2, 3)

In a study confirming this ancient wisdom, groups of mice were fed three different unhealthy diets: a high-fat diet, a high-fructose diet, and both a high-fat and high-sugar diet. The groups were either allowed to eat or “graze” as much as they wanted all day and night, or eat as much as they wanted but only during 8, 9, and 12-hour blocks of time. The results showed that both groups ended up eating the same amount of calories, but the group that ate only during the 8, 9 or 12-hour time blocks showed significant health benefits compared to the group that nibbled or grazed all day. (3)

The group that did not graze and ate only during limited blocks of time showed: (3)

  • Improved weight control
  • A healthy inflammation response
  • Increased motor coordination
  • Lower insulin production as protection against high blood sugar levels
  • Improved liver function

Note: Since mice are nocturnal, they fed the mice during nighttime hours. Humans would, logically, have a genetically circadian eating schedule during daylight hours.

In another study, feeding only during certain blocks of time (as opposed to grazing) was found to stabilize and even reverse the progression of metabolic diseases in mice with preexisting weight and blood sugar imbalances. (4) Both in humans and animals, eating the main meal earlier in the day supported weight loss, decreased daily food intake, and higher feeding efficiency, whereas unusual/irregular eating patterns can actually induce metabolic dysfunction. (5-7)

Living For the Weekend

Perhaps even more impressive was that, if the mice ate during blocks of time and did not graze for just 5 days a week, they were still protected from weight gain and the other risk factors mentioned above – even if they splurged and ate a high-fat diet whenever they wanted during the weekend. (3, 4)

Your Gut Bugs Tell All

The same group of researchers measured the effects of eating during daytime blocks of time versus grazing all day on the microbiome. The non-grazing diet showed significant proliferation of more beneficial microbes, and a decrease in healthy microbes was seen in the group that was allowed to eat or graze all day.

Conclusion

Based on these studies and the ancient wisdom of Ayurvedaconsider restricting your eating window to a maximum of 12 hours. This gives the digestive system at least a 12-hour break each day. I remember, as a child, eating dinner before 6 PM and breakfast at 7 AM – a 13-hour fast without food. While this might feel like ancient wisdom, it is now backed by modern science. Again, we find ourselves going “Back to the Future.”

References

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23799401
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25404320
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413112001891
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25470547
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23357955
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25101217
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25050022

Leave a Comment