Eating several small meals a day, instead of three regular meals, repeatedly has been raised as a potential way to control appetite and manage weight. However, there is no consensus in the scientific literature about whether snacking frequently actually does lead to lower BMIs or whether, on the contrary, it may lead to higher calorie intakes.
The researchers behind this latest study examined the eating habits of more than 6,000 participants in a 2010 Swiss Food Panel questionnaire, and compared their snacking frequency with various factors, including sociodemographics, lifestyle factors and BMI (body mass index).
“The results indicate that there is no association between BMI and snack frequency,” the authors wrote. “High-frequency snack consumption occurs in the context of healthy, as well as unhealthy, dietary behaviour and lifestyle patterns.”
They found that women were more likely to make healthy snack choices, such as fruits, while men were more likely to choose less healthy options, like sweets and savouries.
Among those who ate the most snacks, the researchers said there were three different patterns of consumption: Those with a healthy dietary pattern, those with a moderate dietary pattern, and those with an unhealthy dietary pattern characterised by frequent alcohol consumption, skipping breakfast and watching television during meals.
“Instead of advising a speciﬁc number of snacks per day, healthy food choices and healthy lifestyles should be stimulated,” they wrote.
“Advising a general increase in snack consumption might even have unfavourable effects, as increasing the number of eating occasions per day without increasing the energy intake at the same time might be difﬁcult to achieve. The consumption of nutritious snacks should be promoted and consumers, especially men, need to be sensitised to the energy density of sweets and savouries as snacks.”
Source: Public Health Nutrition
“Snack frequency: associations with healthy and unhealthy food choices”
Authors: Christina Hartmann, Michael Siegrist and Klazine van der Horst