Whether eating a “snack” is considered a beneficial or detrimental behavior is largely based on how “snack” is defined. The term “snack food” tends to connote energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods high in nutrients to limit (sugar, sodium, and/or saturated fat) like cakes, cookies, chips and other salty snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Eating a “snack food” is often conflated with eating a “snack,” however, leading to an overall perception of snacks as a dietary negative. Yet the term “snack” can also refer simply to an eating occasion outside of breakfast, lunch, or dinner. With this definition, the evidence to support health benefits or detriments to eating a “snack” remains unclear, in part because relatively few well-designed studies that specifically focus on the impact of eating frequency on health have been conducted. Despite these inconsistencies and research gaps, in much of the nutrition literature, “snacking” is still referred to as detrimental to health. As discussed in this review, however, there are multiple factors that influence the health impacts of snacking, including the definition of “snack” itself, the motivation to snack, body mass index of snack eaters, and the food selected as a snack. Without a definition of “snack” and a body of research using methodologically rigorous protocols, determining the health impact of eating a “snack” will continue to elude the nutrition research community and prevent the development of evidence-based policies about snacking that support public health.
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© 2018 Elsevier Inc.
- Eating behavior
- Nutrient density
- Nutritional assessment