I am actually not a big believer in snacks. I think it is far more important to be having three good sized meals daily, therefore reducing the need for snacking. My reasoning for this is simple – many of our hormones like a good ebb and flow. When one is released… the other one is laying low until it is their turn – as is the case with insulin and glucagon.
Insulin is mainly known as a blood sugar regulator – the guy who comes out and facilitates the storage of carbohydrates. But it is worth noting that both fats and proteins will also cause the release of insulin – however just not as much as is seen when carbs are eaten. Insulin is a ‘stockpiler’ of goodies – the one who helps to pack everything away.
Glucagon is the counter partner for insulin. It likes to take the ‘stockpiled’ goodies when blood sugars are starting to lower and distribute them for energy use. We need both hormones to have their chance to do their thing… so what happens if we are only stockpiling? You guessed it – weight gain, irregular blood sugar levels, sugar crashes, etc.
Now, if you are eating all the time – let’s say breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, dessert… where is the time for glucagon to come out and say hello? You always have insulin floating around because it is always mopping up from what was just eaten.
Glucagon is a fat-burning hormone
About four to six hours after you eat, the glucose levels in your blood decrease, triggering your pancreas to produce glucagon. This hormone signals your liver and muscle cells to change the stored glycogen back into glucose. These cells then release the glucose into your bloodstream so your other cells can use it for energy.
This whole feedback loop with insulin and glucagon is constantly in motion. It keeps your blood sugar levels from dipping too low, ensuring that your body has a steady supply of energy.
Therefore my thoughts are that snacks should be a sometimes thing. You should be enjoying three solid meals per day and you should be feeling happy, energetic and just a bit hungry by meal time. If you need to snack all the time and you are reaching for things like fruits or other higher carb foods for a quick energy boost reassess you meal sizes. Don’t get me wrong, fruits are not evil but I think most times they are best consumed with your regular meals so you are not just getting a good mix of your macronutrients (there are exceptions though e.g. post workout).
So, how glucagon actually works towards fat-burn?
Glucagon can raise your blood sugar by converting glycerol in your fat cells into glucose for fuel. Glucagon also signals the fat cells to release free fatty acids (a process called lipolysis). Glucagon signals the body to release stored fat to be used as fuel. Numerous research studies illustrate the effects of these two opposing hormones. The simplest of these was featured in the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology. In the study, researchers injected one group of rats with insulin and another group of rats with glucagon.
The rats that received the insulin gained body fat and ate more. The rats that received the glucagon lost body fat.
The take home message: Insulin promotes fat storage and it keeps you fat by blocking access to your fat reserves. Glucagon is essential for breaking down body fat and burning it for energy.
If you have to rely on fruit to get through the day or to get you through to your next meal – there is something going wrong, your body is asking for longer sustained energy. Have a look at your meals and make some adjustments and notice the difference. When people are eating good food, I generally find they are actually under eating rather than overeating – especially women. Eat good (GOOD) sized meals – including meats, vegetables and fruits and good fats with every meal. Especially for breakfast, as this is going to set you up for the day!
If you feel like snacking and your meal sizes are decent – also consider emotional or habitual eating. When people are used to doing something (e.g. snacking) this habitual behavior can be hard to break. Same goes with emotional eating (something I have done in the past myself). My best tip is to keep a food and emotional diary and check your thoughts to see what’s going on. Make notes of what you were eating (or wanted to eat) and emotionally how you were feeling. It gives you such great insight to what your triggers are. Think about what has happened during the day, are you stressed, have you had a run in with someone, are you bored with your job? All these sorts of things can affect your food choices.
Now in saying all of that… if you feel like you want to transition to better snack choices or you are putting out a lot of energy, what would my choices be?
Healthy Snacks That Burn Fat
Hard Boiled Eggs: Mother Nature’s power food packed into a convenient hand-sized package.
Macadamia Nuts: Packed with good fats and the best ratio of Omega 3:6 of all of the nuts, just a small handful is all you should need.
Beef Jerky: Ohhhh boy do I love jerky! If you are buying store bought jerky make sure you check out the ingredients and not buy one with additional nasties like sugar, artificial flavors, and preservatives.
Green Smoothie: Depending on your output levels, a green smoothie made with spinach, banana, macadamia nuts and some almond milk is yum! Or you could try one with berries and some cacao.
Coconut Bites: These are a yummy way to get some additional coconut oil in your diet and will leave you feeling satisfied.
Raw Turnips: Don’t laugh! I love these guys 🙂 If you peel the outer layer off them, they are like a sweeter tasting radish – best snack going around!
And one more:
Cup of Bone Broth: Amazingly good for you and is great to have on a cold day.
Be true to your nature,