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  • A new study shows the quality of snacks you eat is more important than the amount or how often you snack. Timing also plays a role.
  • Snacking late at night was linked with unfavorable blood glucose and insulin levels.
  • Examples of high-quality snacks include fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, and Greek yogurt.
  • Examples of low-quality snacks include processed snacks, baked goods, and candy.

Snacks are a major part of our diets, accounting for 20% of energy intake among U.S adults.

In a new study with more than 1,000 participants, researchers how having a snack at different points during the day and the quality of these snacks impacts your health.

The study was presented at NUTRITION 2023 the annual flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

The study found that the type of snacks you eat is more important than the amount or how often you snack. The timing of snacking also matters, and late-night snacking tends to consist of larger amounts and less healthy food choices of sweets and fast foods.

Researchers looked at snacking quantity, quality, and timing with blood fats and insulin levels, and discovered that snacking on foods that contain nutrients proportionate to their calories was linked to improved blood fat and insulin levels.

Additionally, they found that snacking late at night was associated with unfavorable blood glucose and lipid levels. Researchers did not find a connection between snacking frequency, calorie intake, and food quantity with blood fats and insulin.

“Opting for high-quality snacks reduces the consumption of excessive sugar, salt, and saturated fats that comes from processed snacks,” said Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, nutrition consultant and author, Finally Full, Finally Slim& The Portion Teller Plan. “High consumption of these can lead to poor health outcomes including obesity, high blood pressure, and risk of heart disease.”

High-quality snacks also typically provide nutrients for a balanced diet which further promotes overall health. Paying attention to your portion sizes does still matter, Young added.

“While it’s always better to snack less to lower the overall daily caloric intake if one does snack remember that quality is key,” said Dr. William Li, medical doctor and New York Times bestselling author of Eat to Beat Your Diet: Burn Fat, Heal Your Metabolism, and Live Longer.

“Poor quality snacks tend to be ultra-processed foods — the kind you find in the middle aisles of the grocery store or the gas station — and they are made with artificial preservatives, colors, flavorings, and they can be loaded with added sugar,” Li stated.

High-quality snack foods, by contrast, are minimally processed, like tree nuts and seeds, or dried fruit — think trail mix — or whole fruits like an apple, pear, orange, etc. These high-quality snacks are good sources of dietary fiber as well as polyphenols that can help your body fight harmful fat, lower inflammation, and improve your health defenses, Dr. Li said.

In many cases, eating late in the evening results in consuming additional calories.

“Snacking late at night tends to be unfavorable as it often leads to the consumption of excess calories due to unhealthy food choices,” Young stated. “This leads to weight gain as calories eaten are less likely to be burned off and will be stored as fat. It disrupts proper digestion which can lead to discomfort making it difficult to sleep and lowering your sleep quality.”

For optimal health, Li agrees it’s best to curtail eating when you finish dinner. In other words, don’t snack before bedtime.

“What this does is expand the time you are fasting overnight — from the end of dinner through your sleep and until the morning,” said Li. “During fasting, your metabolism shifts from energy storage mode where it’s loading up calories to energy burning mode, where it is burning down calories. By eliminating evening snacking, you’ll drop your insulin levels for longer, burn more body fat, and improve your metabolism. Late night snacking interferes with this process and cuts short the time your metabolism can benefit from these critical processes.”

“Good snacks would be nutrient-dense containing vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium,” said Young. “This would include fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, greek yogurt, etc.”

When it comes to the timing of snacking, a few hours after breakfast and in the afternoon between lunch and dinner would be a good time to snack to maintain energy levels and prevent overeating for the next meal, Young explained.

A light snack before a workout is always helpful to provide energy and perform better during the session. Although the timing of snacks is preferential, avoid snacking late at night before bedtime to prevent indigestion and improve sleep quality.

According to a new study, the type of snacks you eat is more important than the quantity or frequency of snacking. Timing also matters

Eating snacks late in the evening was associated with unfavorable blood glucose and insulin levels.

High-quality snacks contain vitamins and minerals and are low in saturated fat and added sugar. They include fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, and Greek yogurt.

Low-quality snacks include processed snacks, baked goods, and candy.