Background: Snacking raises concern since it may lead to an additional energy intake and poor nutrient quality. A snacking occasion can be defined as any eating occasion apart from main meals, regardless of the amount or type of foods consumed. We described the frequency of snacking occasions according to daily timing in French adults, and compared them between each other, and with the main meals, in terms of energy intake, energy and nutrient density, and food content.
Methods: This cross-sectional analysis included 104,265 adults from the NutriNet-Santé cohort. Food intake was estimated using 24-h records of weekdays. For each eating occasion, nutrient density and energy content and density were computed.
Results: After weighting, 47.6% of our sample were men and mean age was 45.6 (15.3). Overall, 68% of participants ate at least one snack during the reported record, mainly in the morning or afternoon. Overall snack had a lower nutrient density [22.8 (SD = 278.3)] than main meals [25.8 (36.9) to 30.0 (30.4)]; but higher energy density [222.2 (163.3) kcal/100 g] than meals [133.9 (57.3) to 175.9 (99.6) kcal/100 g]. Morning snack was the snacking occasion with the lowest energy density [211 kcal/100 g], the lowest energy intake [104.1 kcal] and the highest nutrient density [60.1]. Afternoon and evening snacks had the highest energy loads [192.4 kcal and 207.6 kcal], but low nutrient scores [16 and 13, respectively]. The main food groups contributing to energy intake from snacks were fatty-sweet and sugary foods, fruit, hot beverages, and bread.
Conclusions: Our findings highlight the frequency of snacking and the varying nutritional quality of snacks over the day. The morning snack was shown to be healthier than afternoon and evening snacks.
Trial registration: This study was conducted according to guidelines laid down in the Declaration of Helsinki, and all procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the French Institute for Health and Medical Research (IRB Inserm No. 0000388FWA00005831) and the French Data Protection Authority (Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés No. 908450 and No. 909216). Electronic informed consent was obtained from all participants (Clinical Trial no. NCT03335644 ).
Keywords: Eating occasions; Eating patterns; Meal; Nutritional content; Snack.