First up, the good news: snacking is not unhealthy. Then the bad (but not so surprising) news: the snacks have to be healthy.
A new study has found over a quarter of people undo the benefits of their healthy diets with snacks, with eating at certain times and some types having a particularly negative effect on health.
Researchers from King’s College London School of Life Course & Population Sciences and ZOE looked at the eating habits of 854 people and made a few surprising discoveries.
Firstly, we’re a grazey bunch, with 24% of daily energy intake in the UK coming from snacks. Of those who snacked — 95% of those analysed for the study, the average intake was 2.28 snacks a day, with 47% eating two snacks and 29% eating more than two.
People who ate high-quality snacks, like nuts and fruit, were more likely to have a healthy weight compared to those who didn’t snack or snacked on unhealthy foods — even resulting in better metabolic health and decreased hunger.
However 26% of people combined healthy meals with poor-quality snacks, such as processed foods and sugary treats, which were associated with poorer health, higher hunger levels and a range of disorders associated with metabolic diseases, such as higher BMI, higher visceral fat (belly fat) and higher postprandial triglycerides concentrations (fat in the blood after a meal).
Of the most popular snacks people reported eating, cakes and pies made the biggest impact on calorie intake (14%), then breakfast cereals (13%), ice-cream and frozen dairy desserts (12%), and biscuits, pastries and baked goods (11-12%).
The times people consumed the snacks made a big difference to health — with post-9pm being the most significant, especially as snackers tended towards foods high in fat and sugar.
The bad news: this discrepancy between healthy meals and unhealthy snacks impacts blood sugar and fat levels, increasing the risk of strokes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
The good news: changing snacking habits could be a simple diet strategy to improving health.
Dr. Sarah Berry, chief scientist at ZOE, said: "Swapping unhealthy snacks, such as cookies, crisps and cakes, to healthy snacks, like fruit and nuts, is a really simple way to improve your health."
Another day, another scientifically proven thumbs down for junk food.
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