The Importance of Choosing Healthy Snacks for Your Overall Health

Choosing healthy snacks can be beneficial for overall health, even if you snack frequently.
By Thomas Sechehaye
Aug. 31, 2023 17:18 UTC

New research pre­sented at Nutrition 2023 at the annual meet­ing of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) explored the rela­tion­ship between snack­ing habits and car­diometa­bolic health.

The researchers ana­lyzed data from 1,001 United Kingdom-based par­tic­i­pants. They found that higher-qual­ity snack­ing, includ­ing con­sum­ing foods closely asso­ci­ated with the Mediterranean diet, was linked to bet­ter blood lipid and insulin responses.

The results appear to show that it is pos­si­ble to see dif­fer­ences in mark­ers of good health such as blood glu­cose, cho­les­terol, triglyc­erides, and insulin resis­tance based on peo­ples’ reported snack­ing habits.- Simon Poole, health instruc­tor, Olive Oil Times Education Lab

According to Kate Bermingham, a researcher and study pre­sen­ter at ASN, the research was part of a more exten­sive study known as PREDICT, the largest per­son­al­ized nutri­tion study in the world.

The aim of this snack­ing study was to answer key ques­tions relat­ing to whether the act of snack­ing per se is asso­ci­ated with unfa­vor­able car­diometa­bolic health out­comes or whether the qual­ity of snack foods is more impor­tant,” she told Olive Oil Times.

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To date, sur­pris­ingly lit­tle has been pub­lished on snack­ing despite it account­ing for 20 to 25 per­cent of energy intake, mak­ing this a valu­able resource paper which we hope will be of inter­est,” Bermingham said, adding that more than two-thirds of peo­ple reported snack­ing daily.

Simon Poole, a physi­cian and nutri­tion instruc­tor for the Olive Oil Times Education Lab, who was not involved in the study, agreed that the study’s results are fas­ci­nat­ing.

The results appear to show that it is pos­si­ble to see dif­fer­ences in mark­ers of good health such as blood glu­cose, cho­les­terol, triglyc­erides, and insulin resis­tance based on peo­ples’ reported snack­ing habits,” he told Olive Oil Times. Higher-qual­ity snacks were asso­ci­ated with bet­ter results, even though the period of the study was only a few days.”

We found that the amount you snack didn’t have a major impact on health,” Bermingham added. It was the qual­ity of snacks that was linked with your health.”

The time that peo­ple snack is a crit­i­cal fac­tor; snack­ing late at night reduces overnight fast­ing time and is asso­ci­ated with unfa­vor­able blood sugar and fat lev­els. Snacking is an inde­pen­dent mod­i­fi­able dietary fea­ture that may be tar­geted to improve health.

According to Medical News Today, the study par­tic­i­pants were approx­i­mately 73 per­cent female, with an aver­age body mass index (BMI) of 25.6, clas­si­fied as slightly over­weight.

Data relied on self-report­ing of qual­ity, quan­tity and tim­ing. Participants self-reported car­diometa­bolic mark­ers, includ­ing blood lipids, glu­cose and insulin lev­els.

High cho­les­terol lev­els and mark­ers of poor glu­cose metab­o­lism observed in this study with low snack qual­ity have been linked with an increased risk of heart dis­ease and type 2 dia­betes,” Poole said.

High-qual­ity snacks were foods con­tain­ing sig­nif­i­cant amounts of nutri­ents rel­a­tive to calo­ries. For the study, par­tic­i­pants mon­i­tored their snack intake over two to four days.

On aver­age, 95 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants ate at least one daily snack. The aver­age of snacks per day was 2.28, mak­ing up about 22 per­cent of daily calo­ries.

Many peo­ple believe snack­ing is an unhealth­ful dietary behav­ior,” Bermingham said. This research addresses key ques­tions on whether snack­ing is asso­ci­ated with unfa­vor­able health out­comes or whether it is all about the qual­ity of foods eaten as a snack.”

This work is par­tic­u­larly timely given the grow­ing habit of snack­ing, a huge vari­ety of snack foods on the mar­ket and the preva­lence of nutri­tion-asso­ci­ated dis­ease,” she added.


Poole said that while snacks con­tribute a small part of a person’s total dietary intake, they still have a tan­gi­ble impact on health mark­ers.

Advertisers of poor-qual­ity processed snacks might encour­age con­sumers to believe that such treats’ can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but it is clear that reg­u­lar con­sump­tion can have neg­a­tive effects,” he said.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, snacks may be part of a healthy diet but can also lead to health prob­lems. Ideal snacks often fea­ture nutri­ent-dense snacks such as raw veg­eta­bles, fresh fruit, nuts and plain yogurt.

Harvard out­lines a self-directed process to incor­po­rate snacks into a meal plan and ensure snacks are work­ing ben­e­fi­cially in the over­all diet.

The steps involve self-reflec­tion and mind­ful­ness to under­stand the mech­a­nisms of snack­ing. Self-inquiry includes under­stand­ing when snack­ing occurs, why snack­ing occurs, what snacks are sat­is­fy­ing, and how much is enough to sat­isfy snack­ing urges.

Harvard describes the qual­i­ties of dif­fer­ent snacks by their char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as crunchy, creamy, sweet or savory. Within each qual­ity, con­sider nutri­tious snack selec­tions to sat­isfy a par­tic­u­lar qual­ity. For instance, crunchy snacks could include raw veg­etable sticks, nuts, seeds, whole grain crack­ers or an apple.

In addi­tion to qual­ity, snack tim­ing plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in blood glu­cose and lipid lev­els. The U.K. researchers found that con­sum­ing most snack­ing calo­ries after 9 p.m. was linked to worse blood glu­cose and lipid lev­els.

The researchers noted that snack­ing fre­quency, calo­rie count, or food quan­tity were not linked with any mea­sures of car­diometa­bolic health.

Snacks, espe­cially qual­ity snacks, can con­tribute to health and nutri­tion. Rather than being con­sid­ered a prob­lem­atic cat­e­gory, snack­ing can be reframed as a time to enhance nutri­tional qual­ity.

There is noth­ing wrong with snack­ing when good qual­ity foods are con­sumed such as a piece of fruit, veg­eta­bles like car­rots or cel­ery dipped in hum­mus, a few olives or a hand­ful of unsalted nuts,” Poole said.

Poole shared his go-to com­bi­na­tion for a healthy snack as a Mediterranean diet spe­cial­ist.

My favorite Mediterranean-style snack com­bines fresh berries, nuts, and seeds with Greek yogurt and a sprin­kle of nut­meg,” he said.

This pro­vides a sat­is­fy­ing and tasty com­bi­na­tion of ingre­di­ents ben­e­fi­cial for glu­cose metab­o­lism, insulin sen­si­tiv­ity, and the gut micro­biome, with healthy fats ben­e­fi­cial for cho­les­terol lev­els as well as plenty of polyphe­nol com­pounds that have ben­e­fi­cial antiox­i­dant and anti-inflam­ma­tory effects,” Poole added.

This new research high­lights that snack­ing qual­ity is more impor­tant than the quan­tity or fre­quency of snack­ing.

Advising the pub­lic to choose high-qual­ity snacks such as nuts over highly processed unhealth­ful snacks is likely ben­e­fi­cial,” Bermingham said. Another impor­tant fac­tor is the tim­ing, with late-night snack­ing unfa­vor­able for health.”

This may mean that uni­ver­sally, snack­ing late in the evening and inter­rupt­ing the overnight fast­ing win­dow is detri­men­tal to health,” she con­cluded.


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