Volume 82, Number 6 November/December 2011
Nearly everyone – children, adolescents, and adults – eats or drinks between meals every day. Not only are more people snacking, but they also are snacking more frequently throughout the day than ever before. The popularity of snacking has raised questions regarding its impact on health.
Although research related to snacking should be interpreted cautiously given the lack of a universally accepted definition, certain trends are apparent, including the increased prevalence of snacking in recent decades. Snacks are often considered to be mostly energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages. However, many consumers today are seeking healthier snacks consistent with their focus on healthier lifestyles.
Healthy snacking can help increase the likelihood of meeting daily servings of food groups such as those recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and USDA’s newly introduced MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.com) – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. For example, 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products are recommended every day for Americans 9 years and older. Also, snacks can contribute to meeting recommendations for energy and essential nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D – nutrients of public health concern identified by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. However, many snack foods are high in energy and contribute to excess discretionary calories as added sugars and fats. For this reason, nutrient-dense snacks consumed within daily calorie allowances are encouraged. Based on the current evidence, researchers have concluded that there is no compelling support for the suggestion that snacking causes overweight/obesity.
Milk and milk products (e.g., cheese, yogurt) are desirable snack choices because of their significant nutrient contribution to the diets of Americans, as well as their taste, versatility, and convenience. Dairy foods account for only 13% of between-meal snacks for people 2 years and older. Increasing dairy-based foods as snacks can be a strategy to help consumers meet recommended daily servings of dairy and nutrients provided by dairy, including some of those limited in their diets (e.g., calcium, vitamin D, potassium).
Recognizing increasing consumer demand for “better for you” snacks, the food industry has incorporated dairy foods and dairy ingredients into a variety of new snack products. For example, cheese, a nutritious snack on its own, can be used as an ingredient in dips, crackers, and other foods consumed as snacks. Also, adding milk protein to foods and beverages offered as snacks can help people looking to attain higher protein intakes.
Well-planned healthy snacks from the basic food groups provides energy and can help close nutrient gaps, and may help reduce between-meal cravings, take the edge off hunger, and prevent overeating at meals. The popularity of snacking presents opportunities for health professionals to help their clients choose nutrient-dense foods that fit within their calorie allowances and for the food industry to develop tasty, nutrient-dense snacks.
Next page »
Table of Contents: