Health & Wellbeing

US adults eat a meal's worth of snacks high in fat and sugar every day

US adults eat a meal's worth of snacks high in fat and sugar every day
Could snacks be to blame for unexpected weight gain?
Could snacks be to blame for unexpected weight gain?
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Could snacks be to blame for unexpected weight gain?
Could snacks be to blame for unexpected weight gain?

American adults are eating 400-500 calories – roughly the same energy intake as a recommended main meal – in snacks every day, and it comes with little nutritional value yet a whole lot of sugar.

“The magnitude of the impact isn’t realized until you actually look at it,” said senior author Christopher Taylor, from The Ohio State University (OSU).

“Snacks are contributing a meal’s worth of intake to what we eat without it actually being a meal,” he added. “You know what dinner is going to be: a protein, a side dish or two. But if you eat a meal of what you eat for snacks, it becomes a completely different scenario of, generally, carbohydrates, sugars, not much protein, not much fruit, not a vegetable. So it’s not a fully well-rounded meal.”

Previous studies have shown that snacking plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight, helping us consume fewer calories at main meals, yet choosing poor nutritional options negate the benefits.

OSU researchers looked at National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 23,708 US adults over the age of 30 years and found that, on average, they were eating a significant amount of calories as snacks, with little benefit. While those with type 2 diabetes ate fewer sugary foods between main meals, the average energy consumption for the entire sample group accounted for between 19.5% and 22.4% of the day’s total.

The researchers believe this should be a red flag for healthy people who are at risk of developing diabetes and other chronic illnesses due to poor lifestyle choices.

“Diabetes education looks like it’s working, but we might need to bump education back to people who are at risk for diabetes and even to people with normal blood glucose levels to start improving dietary behaviors before people develop chronic disease,” Taylor said.

The snacks most often reached for were high in carbohydrates and fats, and also included sweets and alcoholic drinks, as well as dairy. At the bottom of the list, however, were vegetables.

While the data only covered a single 24-hour period for the participants, and may not reflect normal dietary habits, the researchers believe it’s still a good snapshot based on the size of the study.

“It gives us a really good snapshot of a large number of people,” Taylor said. “And that can help us understand what’s going on, where nutritional gaps might be and the education we can provide.”

And rather than shaming people for snacking – which is not in any way a ‘bad’ habit – researchers hope this kind of study can help people make better choices when it comes to between-meal sustenance.

“We need to go from just less added sugar to healthier snacking patterns,” Taylor said. “We’ve gotten to a point of demonizing individual foods, but we have to look at the total picture. Removing added sugars won’t automatically make the vitamin C, vitamin D, phosphorus and iron better. And if we take out refined grains, we lose nutrients that come with fortification.

“When you take something out, you have to put something back in, and the substitution becomes just as important as the removal.”

And while it seems like common sense, planning snacks like we plan meals can help avoid excess calorie intake – something, the researchers add, to be even more mindful of around this time of year.

“Especially during the holidays, it’s all about the environment and what you have available, and planning accordingly,” said Taylor. “And it’s about shopping behavior: ‘What do we have in the home?’

“We think about what we’re going to pack for lunch and cook for dinner,” he added. “But we don’t plan that way for our snacks. So then you’re at the mercy of what’s available in your environment.”

The study was published in the journal PLoS Global Public Health.

Source: Ohio State University

Nutrition labels say the recommendations are based on a 2000 calorie diet. If 400-500 calories should be a main meal, then 3 meals at 500 calories each leaves another 500 calories for snacking... Something in the math is wrong. Either people shouldn't eat 2000 calories, or main meals should be more than 500 calories, or the 400-500 calories
worth of snack isn't much of a problem.
Not to worry! Big Pharma will be ramping up production of semaglutide injectable pens that will come with a "family size" bag of chips in the future. ;)
That's all great, good to know, thank you... but the picture made me want chips
kwalispecial: there’s a lot more to weight gain and loss than simple calories in calories out. It matters what you eat, and carbs are a guarantee for gaining weight.