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Is eating snacks bad for your health? A new study says it depends on quality and timing

Snacking has become a part of daily life for most people living in so-called developed countries. According to a 2023 study published in the journal Nutrients, more than 90% of American adults reported eating one or more snacks per day, with an average of 1.2 to 3 snacks per day. studies(1) It also showed that snacking has increased in frequency and quantity in recent decades. And all of these snacks translate into extra calories (up to 20% of energy intake(2)) In addition to consuming nutrients such as sodium, saturated fats and added sugars, which have an impact on health.

A new study suggests that choosing what you eat and when you eat it can have a big impact on your cardiovascular and metabolic health.

The new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association, examined the snacking habits of 1,000 people to determine how snacking affects health, and whether quality, quantity, frequency or timing makes a difference.

“We were not only interested in what you eat, but also in how you eat,” study lead author Kate Birmingham, Ph.D., a study co-author, told Health.

“Snacking is a common eating habit and many people wonder whether or not they can snack.” Mrs. Birmingham added. Our research problem was: “Is what you snack more important than the frequency of your snacks?”

Compare the timing and quality of snacking

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 1,000 participants living in the United Kingdom and with an average age of 46 years. About 73% of them were women, and their average BMI was 25.6, which is consistent with being slightly overweight.

Self-reported data collected between two and four days included information on the quantity, quality and timing of snack intake, as well as cardiometabolic markers, including blood fat, glucose and insulin levels.

High-quality snacks are defined as foods that contain large amounts of nutrients compared to calories. These foods are said to have high nutritional density. In other words, it is the concentration of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and other beneficial nutrients in food without providing an excessive amount of calories.

results

The researchers found that eating high-quality snacks was associated with higher triglyceride levels and blood sugar levels, compared to those who ate highly processed snacks.

They also found that consuming the most calories from snacks after 9 p.m. was associated with lower blood sugar and blood fat levels.

In addition, the quantity and frequency of snacking do not appear to have as negative effects on health as the quality of snacking.

Furthermore, the results remained unchanged after taking factors such as age, gender, body mass index, education level, physical activity levels and number of main meals into account.

Limitations of the study

This study has some limitations, particularly the fact that snack consumption and composition are based on statements by participants, who may be subject to censoring.

Furthermore, the metabolic requirements of study subjects are unknown and there is insufficient information about the composition and consumption of participants' traditional meals.

In addition, 2 to 4 days is a short period for nutritional evaluation and monitoring of changes and results.

Finally, participants were mainly women, were around forty years old and slightly overweight according to their BMI. Thus, how these findings apply to other groups of people, especially those diagnosed with metabolic disorders, for example, remains unknown.

However, what's even more interesting is the study's finding that late-night snacking has a negative impact on health metrics. It adds to previous research that has reached similar conclusions about nighttime snacking. And indeed a study(3) The 2022 publication in the journal Cell Metabolism showed that eating late increases hunger and reduces energy expenditure during the day, ultimately increasing the risk of obesity.

Healthy snack ideas

One reason why late-night snacking may lead to less positive health signs is that it is usually associated with less wise food choices, such as high-fat snacks or sugary desserts.

Many people snack when they're bored or stressed, and it can become a habit that prevents them from making good choices. The ideal time to snack varies from person to person depending on appetite, physical activities, meal times and overall health, but it's generally best to avoid snacking late in the evening.

However, if you are looking for healthy, balanced snacks, here are some examples:

  • Carrots with chickpeas;
  • Peppers with guacamole.
  • apple slices with peanut butter;
  • Greek yogurt with red fruits;
  • A handful of lightly salted nuts or seeds.

What to remember

Snacks can be eaten at any time between meals, as long as you choose nutrient-dense snacks that are well balanced in protein, fat or fiber. These nutrients slow digestion and delay glucose absorption, promoting satiety without causing a spike in blood sugar that can lead to lethargy and sugar cravings.

It is important to eat and schedule snacks according to individual nutritional needs. For example, a person who needs to gain weight may need to eat higher-calorie snacks more frequently throughout the day. Likewise, a diabetic may need to consider low-sugar options that help keep insulin levels stable, while also providing energy.

Is eating snacks bad for your health? A new study says it depends on quality and timing

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