The quality and timing of snacks are more important for health than quantity or frequency, a new study suggests.
The impact of snacking on our health is a subject of hot debate. Is it the number of snacks, the quality of what we're nibbling on, or the time of day that matters the most?
The study, presented at NUTRITION 2023 in Boston and led by Dr Kate Bermingham, a postdoctoral fellow at King's College London, involved over a thousand participants and suggests the answers are more nuanced than previously thought.
More than 70 per cent of people report snacking at least twice daily, which makes understanding the health implications crucial.
“Our study revealed that snack quality and timing seem to carry more weight than quantity or frequency when it comes to health,” said Dr Bermingham.
The research is part of the ZOE PREDICT project, a series of nutritional studies aiming to understand why people respond differently to the same foods.
The investigation specifically targeted snacking behaviours, a dietary aspect often overlooked despite accounting for 20-25 per cent of energy intake.
The researchers examined links between snacking habits – quality, quantity and timing – with cardiometabolic health, as indicated by blood fats and insulin levels.
Contrary to common belief, the study found no direct association between the frequency or the amount of food consumed during snacking and any of the health measures analysed.
However, the findings did highlight that the quality of snacks plays a significant role in influencing health outcomes.
Snacks rich in nutrients relative to their calorie content were associated with better blood fat and insulin responses.
The timing of snacking also emerged as a crucial factor.
Late-night snacking, which extends the eating window and cuts short the fasting period, was linked with less favourable blood glucose and lipid levels – the amount of fatty substances present in your blood.
“Our research emphasises the importance of both the timing and quality of snacks, showing that these are independent, modifiable dietary features that could be targeted to improve health,” Dr Bermingham saidd.
Participants who consumed high-quality snacks and avoided late-night snacking showed better triglyceride and insulin levels, implying potential benefits for cardiometabolic health.
Conversely, late-night snacking was associated with negative impacts blood sugar levels.
The findings indicate that while poor quality and late-night snacking can pose risks to cardiometabolic health, consuming high-quality snacks might offer health benefits.
Both the quality and timing of snacking can serve as key dietary factors for promoting better health outcomes.