The Sneaky Snacking Habit Sabotaging Your Healthy Eating Goals

A recent study featured in the European Journal of Nutrition highlights how many individuals offset the benefits of wholesome meals by indulging in unhealthy snacks. The nature of these snacks and the timing of consumption, particularly after 9 p.m., can exert detrimental effects on one’s health. Astonishingly, a quarter of people are undermining the advantages of nutritious meals by succumbing to unhealthy snacks, which escalates the risk of strokes and cardiovascular diseases.

The research, unveiled on September 15 in the European Journal of Nutrition, was conducted by a team of scholars hailing from King’s College London School of Life Course & Population Sciences and ZOE. It delves into the snacking tendencies of 854 participants from the ZOE PREDICT study. The researchers made a striking observation: half of the participants failed to align the nutritional quality of their snacks with that of their main meals, and this incongruity negatively impacted vital health metrics, such as blood sugar and lipid levels. Correcting this mismatch could prove to be a straightforward dietary strategy for enhancing one’s well-being.

Dr. Sarah Berry, a prominent figure at King’s College London and the chief scientist at ZOE, underscored the significance of these findings, stating, “Considering that 95% of us snack, and that nearly a quarter of our calories come from snacks, swapping unhealthy snacks such as cookies, crisps, and cakes for healthy alternatives like fruits and nuts is an exceedingly simple means of improving your health.”

The study also shed light on the snacking landscape in the UK, revealing that the nation has embraced snacking as a way of life, with snacks constituting a noteworthy 24% of the daily energy intake. On average, snack enthusiasts consumed 2.28 snacks each day, with 47% opting for two snacks and 29% indulging in even more. In contrast to common assumptions, the analysis established that snacking itself isn’t inherently unhealthy, provided the snacks are of high quality. Individuals who frequently enjoyed top-tier snacks like nuts and fresh fruits were more likely to maintain a healthy weight compared to those who refrained from snacking or favored unhealthy options. Furthermore, superior snacks correlated with improved metabolic health and reduced feelings of hunger.

Nonetheless, a concerning 26% of participants reported consuming nutritious main meals coupled with subpar snacks. These low-quality snacks, encompassing highly processed items and sugary treats, were associated with adverse health markers and increased hunger. Unhealthy snacks were also linked to higher body mass index (BMI), greater visceral fat mass, and elevated postprandial triglyceride concentrations—a combination indicative of metabolic disorders such as stroke, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity.

The study further divulged the most favored snacks, including cookies, fruit, nuts and seeds, cheese and butter, cakes and pies, and granola or cereal bars. Among these, cakes and pies took the lead in contributing to calorie intake (14%), followed by breakfast cereals (13%), ice cream and frozen dairy desserts (12%), donuts and pastries (12%), candy (11%), and cookies and brownies (11%). The timing of snacking was also found to be critical for health, with those indulging after 9 p.m. displaying poorer blood markers, primarily due to their preference for energy-dense, high-fat, and high-sugar foods.

Dr. Kate Bermingham, a senior scientist at King’s College London and a key contributor to the study, emphasized the pivotal role of food quality in achieving positive health outcomes. She emphasized the importance of maintaining a well-balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, protein, and legumes as the most effective approach to improving one’s health.

Citation: “Snack quality and snack timing are associated with cardiometabolic blood markers: the ZOE PREDICT study” by Kate M. Bermingham, Anna May, Francesco Asnicar, Joan Capdevila, Emily R. Leeming, Paul W. Franks, Ana M. Valdes, Jonathan Wolf, George Hadjigeorgiou, Linda M. Delahanty, Nicola Segata, Tim D. Spector, and Sarah E. Berry, European Journal of Nutrition, September 15, 2023, DOI: 10.1007/s00394-023-03241-6.

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