What Is a Snack, Why Do We Snack, and How Can We Choose Better Snacks? A Review of the Definitions of Snacking, Motivations to Snack, Contributions to Dietary Intake, and Recommendations for Improvement

Adv Nutr. 2016 May 16;7(3):466-75. doi: 10.3945/an.115.009571. Print 2016 May.


Around the world, adults consume energy outside of traditional meals such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, because there is no consistent definition of a "snack," it is unclear whether those extra eating occasions represent additional meals or snacks. The manner in which an eating occasion is labeled (e.g., as a meal or a snack) may influence other food choices an individual makes on the same day and satiety after consumption. Therefore, a clear distinction between "meals" and "snacks" is important. This review aims to assess the definition of extra eating occasions, to understand why eating is initiated at these occasions, and to determine what food choices are common at these eating occasions in order to identify areas for dietary intervention and improvement. Part I of this review discusses how snacking is defined and the social, environmental, and individual influences on the desire to snack and choice of snack. The section concludes with a brief discussion of the associations of snacking with cardiometabolic health markers, especially lipid profiles and weight. Part II addresses popular snack choices, overall snacking frequencies, and the demographic characteristics of frequent snackers in several different countries. This review concludes with a recommendation for nutrition policymakers to encourage specific health-promoting snacks that address nutrient insufficiencies and excesses.

Keywords: appetite regulation; childhood obesity; eating behavior; food intake and appetite regulation; nutritional assessment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior*
  • Diet*
  • Eating
  • Energy Intake
  • Environment
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Hunger*
  • Meals
  • Motivation*
  • Snacks*