To Nibble or Not?

Conventional wisdom holds that nibbling — taking small, unplanned portions of food between planned meals and snacks — is bad, that it can hinder blood glucose control and lead to extra calorie consumption and weight gain. Especially this time of year, many articles on preventing weight gain focus on ways to avoid or limit nibbling. But a recent study suggests that nibbling might not be as bad as its reputation suggests.


The study, published in the January 2012 edition of the journal Eating Behaviors, was conducted at two universities in eastern Norway and examined 58 women volunteers, ages 19–41. The average body-mass index (BMI) of the women was 22.8, representing a “healthy” weight (not underweight or overweight). According to an article on the study at MyHealthNewsDaily, women were asked to report how often they nibbled during the previous 28 days. Nine percent reported no nibbling during this period, while 5% reported nibbling every day. The largest group, 40%, reported nibbling on between 6 and 12 days. Based on this self-reporting and on weight and height measurements, researchers found no relationship between nibbling behavior and BMI, frequency of meal or snack consumption, or binge eating.

As critics of the study note in the MyHealthNewsDaily article, self-reporting is not necessarily a good measure of nibbling, as memories are not always reliable. It may even be the case that those who engage in the most nibbling do not realize how often they do it, thus reinforcing the behavior. But even if self-reporting were completely accurate, an observational study such as this one could not determine with certainty whether nibbling leads to weight gain. This is because the women who nibble the least might do so because they have experienced weight gain from nibbling in the past, while those who nibble the most might do so in part because they have found it has no effect on their weight. Overall, nibbling might still contribute to weight gain; only a study that forced some people to nibble while preventing the behavior in others could settle the question with scientific accuracy.

Another factor not accounted for in the study may, of course, be what foods people are nibbling. In the United States, foods that people nibble are often processed and high in refined carbohydrates. Food offerings and habits in Norway may be different enough from those in the US to make nibbling comparatively healthy. In any case, most experts agree that there is a big difference between nibbling on fruits and vegetables, or even unprocessed but high-calorie foods such as nuts, and nibbling on chips or cookies.

Do you nibble frequently? If so, do you try to limit your nibbling, or to have healthy foods around so that when you have the urge to nibble, you’ll reach for something unlikely to spike your blood glucose or lead to weight gain? Have you found that nibbling is helpful, perhaps by limiting severe hunger so that you don’t overeat or binge? Do you have any tips for dealing with the urge to nibble? Leave a comment below!

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  • Dr david sassoon

    you are quite right.
    i have been working fighting diabetes for the last 40 years and the best thing to do is to have healthy nibbling….28 grams of almonds..nuts…can help a lot.
    so the bottom line is ….moderation and DRINK WATER AFTER AVERY MEAL.

  • jim snell

    Hopping on another clambake. As one who uses CGMS wathcing my body, healthy nibblinbg is critical to keep BG up and stop wild swings.

    Healthy nibbling can mean many things to many folks.

    Years ago when I was diagnosed, I stopped all the snacks, cookies, cakes candies et all.

    Didn’t do any good. Now I have mess under control and one of my issues is that I do not let BG drop sub 100 as I do not want liver’s fifo operation dump in glucose under 70; my liver rams bg up to 511 which slides to 278-311 as heart pumps around body to average out, snakcs are critical to keep BG up a little.

    But I am watching cgms at all times to see if snack needed or not. If liver is working correctly by only adding correct amount of glucose, then snacks should be protein/low glycemic as stated and recommended. For me I need to add a few more carbs on the protein for speed of response.

    Otherwise – yes for snacks wisely done.

  • Becky

    It all depends on the food. If I nibble on peanuts or other nuts, I gain weight. If I nibble on apple, raw carrots, celery, etc. I don’t gain weight. Sweets are out of the question when it comes to nibbling. They need to be included in the meal for the carb to insulin ratio if I eat them.

  • misskitty3

    I agree w/ all these comments. As the diabetes advice slogan goes, “You can eat anything you want,in moderate portions, of course”.
    In my experience, as every PWD knows, “healthy snibbles are fantastic! It’s up to the individual to determine what their “healthy nibble” is. I’m assuming we would all agree that diabetes (1, 2, LADA and so on) is an individual disease. Each one of us react differently to the same “healthy nibbles” suggested in any article on “healthy diabetes living”.
    Agree? Diagree? Different variations of view?

  • jim snell

    dead on target. portion control is key under one can eat anything. anything else – someone is sekking snake oil.