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What you eat as a snack has an impact on your health

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Snack quality and timing

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First published: Sept 15, 2023

Summary: Healthy snacks in the morning are good for your health

A study has revealed that snacking on high-quality foods (such as nuts and seeds) earlier in the day can be part of a healthy lifestyle vs. poor quality late-evening snacks.

almonds, peanuts and rolled oats on a wooden spoon
Healthy nuts and seeds snack

Snacks and health

A recent study looked into the health impact of snacks (1).

The study involved 854 participants, of which 73% were women. The average age was 46.1 years and their mean Body Mass Index (BMI) was 25.6. The subjects ate 2.28 snacks per day averaging 203 Calories. Meaning that 24% of their daily caloric intake came from snacks.

Key Findings

  • Quantity and energy (Calories) of the snacks were not associated to cardiometabolic risk markers.
  • However, Low snack quality was linked to higher fasting triglycerides, fasting insulin, insulin resistance, glucose and hunger.
  • Late-evening snacks provoked higher levels of blood sugar, compared to all other snacking times.

Point to remember:

Your snack quality and when to eat it may improve your diet and provide health benefits.

Snacks and health

Snacks quality is important for your health, nuts, whole almonds, an apple aren't the same as a bar of milk chocolate or an iced donut.

Research has shwon that in individuals with higher cardiovascular disease risk, snacking regularly on whole almonds lowers the LDL cholesterol levels. A healthy snack imporves glucose levels in comparison to low quality snacks like sweet biscuits.

Lean people with a BMI below 25 kg⁄m2 benefit from snacks, while obese subjects that snack risk enlarging their waist circumferencer and increasing subcutaneous fat. Overweight people also tend to eat unhealthy snacks in compared to normal-weight people.

The study's snacks

The participants recorded their snack intake and type allowing the resewarchers to note that snacks tend to be less healthy than regular meals: Compared to main meals, snacks contained almost twice the carbs and sugars, nearly 50% more fat and 50% less protein.

Coffee and tea, candy, other drinks were by far the most consumed snacks in quantity, but in caloric content, the leaders were cakes and pies, breakfast cereals, ice cream and frozen dairy desserts, donuts, pastries, candy, cookies, brownies, chips, puffs, and finally, healthy nuts and seeds.

Snacking and health outcomes

Snacking (energy and frequency) are not associated with cardiometabolic health

The researchers couldn't find any statistical differences in heart and body health markers (weight, BMI, visceral fat, waist-to-hip-ratio, sugar or cholesterol blood markers) regarding snacking frequency or the energy obtained from snacks.

They did notice that snack quality is the key factor impacting on health.

Snack quality does impact on cardiometabolic health

On average the study's participants obtained 74% of their snack calories (and 18% of their total daily caloric intake) from low quality, unhealthy foods.

  • Those who ate more snacks (higher frequency) consumed lower quality snacks.
  • Low quality snacking was associated with worse cardiometabolic blood markers (insulin resistance, sugar and triglycerides).
  • Low quality snackers reported greater levels of hunger.
  • On the other hand, high quality snacks were linked to lower insulin Snacking quality is associated with cardiometabolic health markers: lower triglycerides, insulin and also lower hunger.

Those eating minimally processed snacks had the lowest body weight, visceral fat mass and blood glucose and triglycerides in comparison to those who ate ultra-processed snacks.

High-quality snacking versus low-quality snacking
Frequently snacking on high-quality foods was associated with favourable body composition, compared to both non-snackers and low-diet quality frequent snackers both BMI and visceral fat mass were higher in non-snackers compared to high-quality snackers and visceral fat mass, body composition (weight and BMI) was favourable in high-quality snackers versus low-quality snackers

The most common snack eaten by people in the high-quality snack segment was nuts and seeds while low-quality snackers ingested pies and cakes.

Timing is everything: when you snack and its health impact

The study found that those who snacked in the morning ate healthier snacks than all other snackers.

Those who snacked late evening, after 9 PM showed poor blood markers (triglycerides, and sugar) in comparison to all other daytime snackers.

Late-evening snackers who ate poor quality snacks showed even worse markers than those nighttime snackers who ate better quality snacks.

Glucose levels may be impacted by nighttime snacking because it reduces the overnight fasting time.

Gut microbes and snacks

The sample also measured the microbiome composition in the participants however, no association was found between qualiy or frequency and gut microbiome. The authors conclude that "this suggests overall diet may have stronger effects on the microbiome than snaking alone."

The study concludes that "late snacking is associated with unfavourable outcomes, potentially due to a reduced overnight fasting interval. These findings support the view that snacking on high-quality foods earlier in the day can be part of a healthy lifestyle."

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References and Further Reading

(1) Bermingham, K.M., May, A., Asnicar, F. et al. (2023). Snack quality and snack timing are associated with cardiometabolic blood markers: the ZOE PREDICT study. Eur J Nutr (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-023-03241-6.

About this Article

What you eat as a snack has an impact on your health, A. Whittall

©2019 Fit-and-Well.com, 15 Sept. 2023. Update scheduled for 09 Oct. 2026. https://www.fit-and-well.com/health/snacks-their-quality-and-health-Sept-15-2023.html

Tags: diet, heart disease, diet, weight loss, health news

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