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Smart snacking: Quality and timing make all the difference

In an era where snacking has become an ingrained part of our daily routine, one question continues to generate heated debate amongst health professionals and the public alike: is snacking bad for your health? The answer, it seems, hinges on not only the types of foods we reach for, but also the timing of our snack breaks. 

Recent studies suggest that more than 70% of people snack at least twice a day, transforming the perception of snacking from a dietary taboo to a widespread eating pattern. 

Snack quality and timing

A new study from King’s College London involving over 1,000 participants has investigated the potential health impacts of snacking. For the researchers, the goal was to scrutinize the extent to which snack quality and timing could influence health outcomes.

Dr. Kate Bermingham, a postdoctoral fellow at King’s College London and the lead researcher in this study, clarified the team’s findings: “Our study showed that the quality of snacking is more important than the quantity or frequency of snacking, thus choosing high quality snacks over highly processed snacks is likely beneficial. Timing is also important, with late night snacking being unfavorable for health.”

The findings of the study were unveiled at NUTRITION 2023, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.


The study is embedded in the ZOE PREDICT project, an initiative that coordinates multiple extensive, comprehensive nutritional research studies. This project’s primary objective is to shed light on the nuances of how and why individuals respond differently to the same foods.

Bermingham noted the scarcity of research on snacking, despite its significant contribution to our daily energy intake, typically accounting for 20-25%. 

“PREDICT followed a large number of people and captured detailed information on their snacking behaviors, allowing this in-depth exploration of snacking on health,” said Bermingham.

How the study was conducted 

To map out the intricate connection between snack patterns and health indicators, the researchers used data from over 1,000 UK participants involved in the ZOE PREDICT 1 study. 

They focused primarily on the correlation between snacking quantity, quality, and timing with blood fats and insulin levels – key indicators of cardiometabolic health.

What the researchers learned 

The comprehensive analysis indicated that snacks rich in nutrients relative to their caloric value – what the researchers referred to as higher-quality foods – were correlated with more favorable blood fat and insulin responses. 

On the other hand, late-night snacking, which extends the daily eating window and curtails the overnight fasting period, was associated with less favorable blood glucose and lipid levels. Interestingly, there was no discernible connection between snack frequency, calorie intake, food quantity, and any of the analyzed health measures.

Bermingham highlighted a significant finding that could pave the way for future dietary interventions: “We observed only weak relationships between snack quality and the remainder of the diet, which highlights snacking as an independent modifiable dietary feature that could be targeted to improve health.” 

Healthy snacking ideas

Snacking can play an important role in a healthy diet, as long as you choose nutrient-rich foods and keep an eye on portion sizes. 

Snacks can prevent overeating at meal times and throughout the day, provide additional nutrients, and keep your energy levels consistent. Here are some healthy suggestions:

Fruit and yogurt

Fresh fruits are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Pairing them with a protein-rich yogurt can make you feel fuller for longer.

Nuts and seeds

They are excellent sources of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds are some great options. Be careful with portion sizes, as these foods are high in calories.

Vegetable sticks with hummus

Vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, cucumber, and celery are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Hummus, made from chickpeas, provides protein and healthy fats.

Whole grain toast with avocado

Avocado is high in monounsaturated fats, fiber, and various important nutrients. Whole grain bread contains complex carbohydrates that provide you with steady energy.

Boiled eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and also contain many important nutrients, including vitamin B12 and choline.


Homemade smoothies can be a nutrition powerhouse, combining fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and other nutritious ingredients. Avoid adding too much sugar.

Air-popped popcorn

This is a whole grain food that’s high in fiber and low in calories, provided you don’t overload it with butter or other high-calorie toppings.

Dark chocolate

Choose a chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. It’s high in antioxidants and can satisfy a sweet craving in a healthier way.


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