Snacking Between Meals May Increase Liver and Belly Fat

Mireille Serlie, MD PhD Academic Medical Center University of Amsterdam Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism Amsterdam, The Interview with:
Mireille Serlie, MD PhD
Academic Medical Center
University of Amsterdam
Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

MedicalResearch What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Serlie: We studied the effects of hypercaloric high sugar or high fat/high sugar drinks consumed with the 3 main meals (representing an increase in meal size) or in between the 3 main meals (representing an increase in meal frequency or snacking). All subjects gained a similar amount of body weight but only the ones that snacked showed an increase in liver and abdominal fat. This suggests that besides caloric content and diet composition, eating pattern independently contributes to liver and abdominal fat accumulation. We also observed a trend for a decrease in hepatic insulin sensitivity in the high fat/high sugar frequency group only.

MedicalResearch: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Serlie: We expected that snacking would have differential effects on glucose metabolism and that high sugar drinks would have the most pronounced effect on liver fat. We were surprised though that in these healthy lean males liver fat significantly increased in both snacking groups within 6 weeks but not in the groups consuming these drinks together with the 3 main meals. We did not expect that eating pattern would have an independent effect on liver and abdominal fat. Apparently the continuous exposure to nutrients promotes storage of fat within the liver while cycles of fasting and feeding do not. This is at least true for healthy lean males on a short term hypercaloric diet.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Serlie: Hypercaloric snacking leading to an increase in body weight favors accumulation of liver and abdominal fat. Reducing the consumption frequency of high fat/high sugar snacks and high sugar drinks and allowing for cycles of fasting and feeding might have beneficial effects on liver and abdominal fat.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Serlie: This study needs to be repeated in females and older individuals. Also it might be of interest to study whether reducing snacking throughout the day reduces liver fat in abdominally obese patients with hepatic steatosis and whether it affects components of the metabolic syndrome. I would also be interested in the effect of reducing meal frequency on the development of obesity in children.


Karin E Koopman, Matthan WA Caan, Aart J Nederveen, Anouk Pels, Mariette T Ackermans, Eric Fliers, Susanne E la Fleur, Mireille J Serlie. Hypercaloric diets with increased meal frequency, but not meal size, increase intrahepatic triglycerides: A randomized controlled trial. Hepatology, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/hep.27149


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