Americans are Eating a Meal’s Worth of Calories in Snacks, Study Finds

Amy Barczy

| 2 min read

Amy Barczy is a former brand journalist who authored content at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Prior to her time at Blue Cross from 2019-2024, she was a statewide news reporter for MLive.com. She has a decade of storytelling experience in local news media markets including Lansing, Grand Rapids, Holland, Ann Arbor and Port Huron.

America has a snacking culture: most adults eat one to three snacks per day. But a recent study analyzing the nutritional value and calories in snacks found that most U.S. adults are averaging 400 to 500 calories in snacks in a day – sometimes more than they consume from a meal.
Snacks can make up about 25% of the calories adults consume in a day; yet they often have lower nutritional value and account for one-third of the added sugar adults eat, the study found. 
A snack can be any food. But most snacks people reach for are more highly processed, prepackaged foods that have sugars added and more saturated fats. Think candy, cookies, muffins, chips, cereal bars, crackers and sugary drinks.
The study analyzed snacks among people with Type 2 diabetes and without Type 2 diabetes. Regardless of the person’s diabetes status, the study found that snacks added little nutritional benefit to a person’s overall diet and didn’t conform with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans or the American Diabetes Association diabetes treatment guidelines. And in fact, only 5% of snacks were fruits and vegetables.
The snack market in the U.S. is projected to continue to grow; which means the pervasiveness of prepackaged and processed snack foods will continue to dominate grocery stores and convenience stores. This is of particular concern to many health experts, as at least three-quarters of U.S. adults are overweight or obese – putting them at an increased risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

Build a better snack 

Snacking isn’t necessarily bad – but it depends on the nutritional quality of the snack itself. Nutrient-dense foods that are minimally processed and higher in protein, fiber and vegetables, and lower in sugars and refined carbohydrates, are better choices for snacks.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends some ideas for healthy snacks:
  • Whole fruits
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Fresh vegetables with condiments, like carrot sticks and hummus
  • Unsweetened fat-free or low-fat yogurt with fresh or canned fruit
Snacks should be enough to satisfy hunger but should not interfere with your appetite for a meal, or add more calories than a meal.
For easy, healthy snack and meal ideas, check out these recipes on A Healthier Michigan.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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