Americans snack so much that it counts as an extra daily meal

Why do so many Americans still take a seat and a half on the bus or train? The villains are snacks, which make up nearly a quarter of the daily calories for US adults and account for about a third of the daily added sugar.

Publish their findings PLOS Global Public Health Titled “Snacks Significantly Influence Total Dietary Intake in Adults with Stratified Glycemia in the United States,” Christopher Taylor, professor of medical dietetics at The Ohio State University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, analyzed data from a survey of 23,708 adults. A 30-year-old who had participated in a national health and nutrition research study between 2005 and 2016. The survey collects 24-hour food memories from each participant – detailing not only what, but also when all the food was consumed.

People unknowingly make 200 food-related decisions every day. On average, there are five or six meals a day (three main meals + two or three snacks), which suggests that many of these food decisions may involve snacks.

They found that Americans ate an average of about 400 to 500 calories a day — often more than what they ate for breakfast — and that these sugary or salty junk foods provided little nutritional value.

The serious health risks of snacking too much

Although nutritionists are well aware of Americans’ tendency to snack, “the magnitude of the impact is not realized until one actually looks,” they wrote. “Snacks add a meal to what we eat without it being a meal,” Taylor said. “You know what dinner will be: a protein, a side dish or two. But if you snack on what you eat, it becomes a completely different scenario: carbs, sugars, low protein, low fruit, no vegetables – so it’s not a complete meal.”

A blood sugar test is performed to check the sugar level of a patient with type 2 diabetes (credit: DARRYL LEJA/NIH/FLICKR)

They found that participants who had their type 2 diabetes under control ate fewer sugary foods and ate less than patients without diabetes and those whose blood sugar levels indicated they were pre-diabetic.

“Diabetes education seems to be working, but we may need to re-educate people at risk of diabetes, and even people with normal blood sugar, to start improving dietary behavior before people develop chronic disease,” Taylor added.


Respondents were classified according to their HbA1c level – a measure of glucose control – into four groups: non-diabetic, pre-diabetic, controlled and poorly controlled. Of the entire study sample, snacks accounted for 19.5–22.4 percent of the total energy intake, but there were few nutrients.

Snacks consisted, in relative descending order, of carbohydrate- and fat-rich convenience foods, sweets, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages that contain sugar-sweetened beverages, protein, milk and dairy products, fruits, grains, and – far behind – vegetables.

While recording 24-hour food consumption doesn’t necessarily reflect how people typically eat, “it gives us a really good snapshot of a large number of people,” Taylor explained. “And that can help us understand what’s going on, where the nutritional deficiencies might be, and what education we can provide.”

“We need to move from less added sugar to a healthier snack,” she said. “Removing added sugars does not automatically improve vitamin C, vitamin D, phosphorus and iron, and if we remove refined grains, we lose the nutrients that come with supplementation.

“When you take something out, you have to put something back in, and replacement becomes as important as removal.

“We think about what to pack for lunch and prepare for dinner. However, we don’t design our snacks this way – so you’re at the mercy of what’s available in your environment.”

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