Recent research revealed that American adults get nearly one-quarter of their daily calories from snacks and sugary foods with little or no nutritional value.
In the United States, nearly 42% of adults have obesity, and almost 12% have diabetes. Because dietary patterns and food choices contribute to the development of both conditions, understanding more about what people consume every day is critical for developing intervention strategies.
To learn more, scientists from Ohio State University took a closer look at dietary patterns in the U.S. They found that 19.5-22.4% of an American adult's daily diet consists of snacks or sweetened foods. And this snacking habit adds about 400 to 500 calories per day — more than an average meal.
The researchers also found that only 5% of daily calories come from fruits and vegetables.
To conduct the study, published in PLOS Global Public Health, the scientists analyzed the 24-hour food intake of 23,708 U.S. adults. Then, they divided them into four groups according to their blood sugar control status.
Overall, the participants had an average of two snacks on the day they completed the food intake survey.
The team found that adults with prediabetes and controlled or poorly controlled type 2 diabetes consumed significantly fewer calories from snacks than people without diabetes and those with prediabetes.
Among all participants, the average snack contained no dark leafy greens, legumes, or seafood rich in omega-3s.
What's more, participants without diabetes obtained 14.6% of their daily energy intake from alcoholic beverages — nearly twice as much as the other groups.
The study's authors say that snacks make up a significant portion of the average American's diet, and these foods offer little nutritional value. Additionally, the results showed that people with type 2 diabetes consumed fewer calories from snacks than other groups, which may indicate they are following dietary advice from healthcare providers.
"Diabetes education looks like it's working, but we might need to bump education back to people who are at risk for diabetes and even to people with normal blood glucose levels to start improving dietary behaviors before people develop chronic disease," said senior study author Christopher Taylor, professor of medical dietetics in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at The Ohio State University, in a press release.
One limitation of the study was that it used food consumption data from one 24-hour period. However, Taylor noted that the research used a significant number of participants, which provides insights into the dietary patterns of a large number of people.
To gain more control over snacking behavior, Taylor suggests people should be mindful of what types of snack foods they buy and have available in their homes.
"We think about what we're going to pack for lunch and cook for dinner. But we don't plan that way for our snacks. So then you're at the mercy of what's available in your environment," Taylor explained.
How to stop making poor snack choices
What's available at home can influence what a person eats. For instance, when a person gets the urge to snack, that bag of chips or cookies on the cabinet shelf might be more appealing than vegetables in the fridge that still need to be washed and prepped.
That's why stocking the fridge and pantry with healthy snack foods that are prepared ahead of time, instead of high-calorie snacks laden with fat and sugar, can help a person make better food choices.
While it's best to avoid eating too many snacks, foods such as Greek yogurt, air-popped popcorn, and fruit are good options for people who want to lose weight. Moreover, hard-boiled eggs, vegetables, and cheese are low-carb snack choices that may help people with diabetes avoid blood sugar spikes.
- PLOS Global Public Health. Snacks contribute considerably to total dietary intakes among adults stratified by glycemia in the United States.
- Ohio State University. U.S. adults eat a meal's worth of calories of snacks in a day.
- CDC. Adult Obesity Facts.
- CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report.