Nibbling Versus Gorging: Prolonged Carbohydrate Absorption

by Tanya Zilberter, PhD

"Recently, the health benefits of so-called " nibbling versus gorging" phenomenon, when starchy meals are eaten frequently but in smaller amounts, is broadly discussed."

The beneficial effects of prolonged carbohydrate absorption are observed even with the same carbohydrate form: since 1930s, it is well known to diabetics and their doctors that when glucose is sipped slowly rather than gulped, less insulin is needed to control blood glucose concentrations.

Effects of Meal Frequency Increase

An average American eats an average 3.12 meals a day. Is it enough? How does meal timing affect one's body weight and general health? How does it influence one's appetite and muscle mass?

Ever thought what makes you start and finish eating? Right, hunger makes you start and feeling full makes you stop. But how about breakfast? They say it's the most important part of your meal plan and you eat it just for the sake of it. How about snacking, should you have snacks? How often? Don't we take for granted that skipping breakfasts and having two square meals a day is bad for you? Bad for what exactly? Let's see if there's any rationale behind.

Studies have demonstrated that a good breakfast is usually associated with an improvement in mental tasks performance later in the morning, while lunch does exactly the opposite, plus it has rather negative effects on mood. Late in the afternoon, meals appear to have a positive effect on tasks involving sustained attention or memory. (British Journal of Nutrition. 77 Suppl 1:S105-18, 1997)

Recently, researchers in Johannesburg, South Africa, reported that frequent meals reduced appetite by 27%! This is how they figured it out. One group of healthy overweight men had a big breakfast, then next meal only after 5 hours when they had nothing to eat. Another group ate the same amount of same food but divided in 5 hourly meals. Guess who ate more when after these 5 hours they had an "all you can eat" meal? Yes, the gorgers did. What's more, compared to them, the nibblers had much more favorable insulin and blood glucose profiles. (International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders. 23(11):1151-9, 1999).

These favorable blood readings can explain the fact that more frequent meals can be protective against cardiovascular diseases. For example, in the Department of Vascular Surgery, Charing Cross Hospital, London, doctors investigated how habitual meal frequency influenced atherosclerosis. After they made the necessary adjustment for 120 patients' age, sex, smoking, diabetes, blood pressure, and body mass index, the odds for peripheral arterial disease among those eating between meals (grazing) compared with those who did not, was 1:2. (Journal of Cardiovascular Risk. 6(1):19-22, 1999)

Now, how about weight loss? Scandinavian researchers reported that competitive boxers who tried to lose weight by reducing their calorie intake, lost same amount of body weight, but it was mostly lean body mass loss in those who had their ration in two square meals compared with those who had 6 meals a day. (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 6(5):265-72, 1996)

To tell you the truth, while dieticians and nutritionists seem to adopt the "nibbling versus gorging" model of daily meal planning, not all doctors agree with it. Many diet reviewers concluded that there's no sufficient long term studies proving the benefits of "nibbling". For example, Nutrition Research Group, University of Surrey, UK, did not confirm that nibbling is beneficial in reducing the concentrations of lipid and hormones on the long run. (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 50(8):491-7, 1996).

There can more to this if we look into cancer risks studies. There are many clinical reports about higher risk of many cancers of stomach and intestines in people who are used to eat more meals during the day for many years. For example, a higher daily meal frequency was responsible for 13% of 3350 cases of colorectal cancer in Northern Italy, as reported by National Tumor Institute, Milan, Italy.

It is interesting, that intake of more than two cups of coffee a day had a protective effect against cancer (Nutrition & Cancer. 30(3):182-5, 1998) thus providing a simple measure to counterpart the negative effect while keeping the possible benefits of frequent meals.

The benefits of carbohydrate control by reducing portion and increasing frequencies of meals.

# Lower total cholesterol levels in clinical experiments
# Lower total cholesterol levels in population studies
# Cholesterol synthesis was reduced
# Low-density lipoprotein (ldl) cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) reduction
# Lower levels of apolipoprotein b ("very bad" stuff)
# Reduced insulin secretion
# The lower insulin levels
# Depressed glucose levels
# Increased bile acid secretion
# Suppressed free fatty acids levels
# Reduced serum uric acid levels (risk factor for coronary heart disease)
# Increased urinary uric acid excretion
# Reduced adipose tissue enzyme levels
# Reduced fluctuations in satiety

More Information


Bertelsen J, Christiansen C, Thomsen C et al. (1993) Effect of meal frequency on blood glucose, insulin, and free fatty acids in NIDDM subjects. Diabetes Care 16:3-7.
Jenkins DJA, Wolever TMS, Taylor RH et al. (1980) Rate of digestion of foods and post-prandial glycaemia in normal and diabetic subjects. British Medical Journal 2:14-17.
Jenkins DJA, Wolever TMS, Ocana AM, Vuksan V, Cunanne SC and Jenkins MJA (1990) Metabolic effects of reducing rate of glucose ingestion by single bolus versus continuous sipping. Diabetes 39:775-781.
Jones PJH, Leitch CA and Pederson RA (1993) Meal frequency effects of plasma hormone concentrations and cholesterol synthesis in humans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 57:868-874.


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What low carb plan have you tried the most?
Atkins Diet
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No White Diet - no white flour, potatoes, white rice
No sugars, high sugar fruit, starchy vegetables
I created my own low carb plan
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