Is snacking bad for you? It depends on what you choose

LONDON — People love a good snack. In fact, current research shows that over 70 percent have them at least two snacks per day. Now, a new study including over 1,000 people looked into whether snacking impacts health, and if snack quality matters. The results show snacking is more about quality than quantity.

“Our study showed that the quality of snacking is more important than the quantity or frequency of snacking, thus choosing high quality snacks over highly processed snacks is likely beneficial,” says Kate Bermingham, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at King’s College London. “Timing is also important, with late night snacking being unfavorable for health.”

This work is part of a bigger project called the ZOE PREDICT, which collects a group of large in-depth nutritional research studies that are designed to reveal how and why people respond differently to the same foods.

“Surprisingly little has been published on snacking, despite the fact that it accounts for 20-25% of energy intake,” explains Bermingham in a media release. “PREDICT followed a large number of people and captured detailed information on their snacking behaviors, allowing this in-depth exploration of snacking on health.”

Woman eating snacks and junk food while working at desk
(© Juliaap – stock.adobe.com)

To conduct the study, the researchers looked at the relationship between snacking quantity, quality, and timing with blood fats and insulin levels, which are both key indicators of cardiometabolic health status. It’s probably not a surprise, but the researchers found that snacking on more nutritious foods displayed a link to better blood fat and insulin responses.

They also found that late evening snacking, which shortens the amount of time your body is in a fasting state, has a connection to undesirable blood lipid and glucose levels. There was no link between snacking frequency, calories eaten, and amount of food eaten with any of the measures analyzed.

“We observed only weak relationships between snack quality and the remainder of the diet, which highlights snacking as an independent modifiable dietary feature that could be targeted to improve health,” says Bermingham.

Lots of “health and weight loss” gurus will tell you that snacking is bad for you and to only focus on eating three meals, but this study supports existing evidence showing that eating snacks isn’t inherently bad, it’s just important to watch what you’re actually eating. It can be easy to fall into the trap of grabbing a quick bag of chips at work or a granola bar instead of a full breakfast in the morning. If you want to improve your overall health, however, it starts with tweaking small things like going for some fruit and cheese over a candy bar for your midday fix.

The researchers presented their findings at NUTRITION 2023, the annual flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

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