Frequent snacking throughout the day rather than eating at dedicated mealtimes, sometimes called grazing, may have an impact on diet quality and health.
In a study recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Australian researchers from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University set out to understand how the timing of our eating occasions can impact our diet quality. Using data from the Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, they looked at the behavior of 4544 men and women and found people generally had one of three eating patterns:
- Conventional (40% of respondents): A structured eating pattern with 3 meals and 2 snacks per day.
- Later lunch (35% of respondents): Structured, like the conventional pattern, but with a lunch occurring ~1 hour later in the day
- Grazing (25% of respondents): More frequent eating occasions that typically do not occur during mealtimes
The results showed that grazers, both men and women, had lower adherence to dietary guidelines and more consumption of ‘discretionary foods’ (e.g. sugary drinks, cakes, pastries), although the differences were modest. Women with grazing eating patterns were 57% more likely to be overweight or obese than women with more structured eating patterns; the same relationship was not found in men in the study.
Mindful eating is one of the first skills dietitians use when counseling patients on weight management, and the results from this study support its importance. Planning for meals and snacks, being consistent with eating times, and being aware of what we eat are important steps to becoming a mindful eater and are powerful tools for improving diet quality. For more on healthy snacking, head to our blog Snacking Under the Nutrition Lens or our white paper Snacking: Indulgent or Essential to a Healthy Diet?.