New research has explored the link between snacking habits and cardio-metabolic health, with evidence showing that high quality snacks could be beneficial for overall health, even for frequent snackers, Olive Oil Times wrote.

The findings were presented at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN)’s annual meeting – Nutrition 2023, the 31 August report said.

Analysing data from more than 1,000 UK-based participants, the research team found that higher-quality snacking, including consuming foods closely associated with a Mediterranean diet, was linked to improved blood lipid and insulin responses.

Ideal snacks often featured nutrient-dense food such as raw vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts and plain yoghurt.

The research was part of a more extensive study known as PREDICT, the largest personalised nutrition study undertaken to date in the world, according to Kate Bermingham, a researcher and study presenter at ASN.

“The aim of this snacking study was to answer key questions relating to whether … snacking per se is associated with unfavourable cardio-metabolic health outcomes or whether the quality of snack foods is more important,” Bermingham told Olive Oil Times.

“To date, surprisingly little has been published on snacking despite it accounting for 20-25% of energy intake.”

According to Bermingham, more than two-thirds of people reported snacking daily.

“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.”

Simon Poole, a physician and nutrition instructor for the Olive Oil Times Education Lab, who was not involved in the study, was quoted as saying the results indicated that it was possible to see differences in markers of good health such as blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin resistance based on individual reported snacking habits.

According to the study, the time that people snack is a critical factor, with snacking late at night reducing overnight fasting time and being linked to unfavourable blood sugar and fat levels.

Snacking was an independent modifiable dietary feature that could be targeted to improve health, the report said.

According to Medical News Today, the study participants were approximately 73% 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 cardio-metabolic 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 added.

High-quality snacks comprised 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% of participants ate at least one daily snack, with 2.28 snacks/day, making up about 22% of daily calories.

According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, snacks may be part of a healthy diet but can also lead to health problems.

“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 added.