Snack quality, not quantity, has the greatest impact on health.

Snack quality, not quantity, has the greatest impact on health.

Snacking: The Key to Better Health?


Choosing healthier, non-processed snacks such as nuts and seeds may be the key to better health. According to researchers, the quality of snacks, rather than quantity or timing, is strongly linked to improved cardiometabolic health. These findings highlight the importance of prioritizing food quality and nutrition, even during snack times.

The Importance of Snacking

Over 90% of U.S. adults eat one or more snacks per day, with most consuming between 1.2 and 3 snacks daily. In recent decades, snacking frequency and quantity have seen a significant increase. Despite snacks contributing to about 20% of energy intake in the American diet, few studies have explored the impact of snack quantity, quality, and timing on health. Understanding how snacking habits affect health is crucial for informed dietary practices.

Snack Quality and Cardiometabolic Health

A recent study presented at NUTRITION 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, examined the relationship between snacking habits and cardiometabolic health. The research evaluated data from 1,001 UK-based participants, averaging 46 years in age. The study found that higher-quality snacks were strongly associated with better blood lipids and insulin responses, positively impacting cardiometabolic markers.

While self-reported snacking quantity, quality, and timing were analyzed, the study highlighted that snack quality had the most significant impact on health outcomes. Adhering to high-quality snacks, defined as those containing ample nutrients relative to calories, showed the most promising results. Consuming snacks after 9 p.m., however, was linked to poorer blood glucose and lipid levels.

Insights from Experts

Dr. Elizabeth R. Raskin, the surgical director of the Margolis Family IBD Program at Hoag Hospital, emphasized the importance of food quality for good health. She stated, “The data emphasize that food quality is of the utmost importance when it comes to health. Diet is the cornerstone to health, and there are many ways to consume the nutrients that we need. Consumption of high-quality, nutritious ‘mini meals’ may be a valuable adjunct to a well-balanced diet.”

However, it is essential to acknowledge the limitations of the study. Self-reports for snack consumption and composition can be prone to forgetfulness. There is also a lack of information about the metabolic demands of participants and the composition of their regular meals. Additionally, the sample primarily consisted of slightly overweight, mid-40s females, raising questions about the study’s applicability to different demographics and individuals with existing metabolic conditions.

Healthy Snacking Ideas

Dani Felber, an integrative brain health dietitian, shared some tips for healthy snacking. She suggested well-balanced snacks such as carrots with hummus, peppers with guacamole, sliced apples with nut butter, Greek yogurt with berries, or a handful of lightly salted nuts or seeds. Felber highlighted the importance of choosing nutrient-dense snacks, balanced in protein, fat, or fiber. These nutrients slow digestion, delay glucose absorption, and provide satiety without causing blood sugar spikes.

Dr. Jaclyn Albin, an associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics, recommended listening to our bodies and snacking only when genuinely hungry. Snacking due to boredom or stress can become a habit that prevents making the best choices. Dr. Albin also cautioned against late-night snacking, stating that it is typically best avoided.

Personalized Snacking

Dr. Raskin emphasized the significance of consuming snacks based on individual nutritional needs. Patients with different goals, such as weight gain or stable insulin levels for diabetes management, require tailored approaches. For instance, high-performance athletes with high metabolic needs may benefit from a nutritious snack before bedtime. It is crucial to understand one’s unique nutritional requirements and adjust snacking habits accordingly.

In conclusion, the quality of snacks plays a vital role in maintaining good cardiometabolic health. Traditional notions associating snacking solely with unhealthy choices need to be reconsidered. By opting for high-quality snacks and paying attention to food composition and timing, individuals can enjoy the benefits of snacking while supporting their overall health and wellbeing.