If You're Trying to Lose Weight, Even Small Snacks Could Hurt

In a recent weight-loss study, women who snacked between breakfast and lunch lost less than those who ate breakfast but did not snack

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Dieters who rely on a mid-morning snack to ward off hunger pangs until lunch time may want to rethink their strategy, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that women who snacked between breakfast and lunch lost an average of seven percent of their body weight , and those who ate a healthy breakfast but did not snack in the morning lost more than 11 percent of their weight.

The study involved 123 women ages 50 to 75 who were overweight to obese and was part of a larger randomized clinical trial designed to test the effects of diet and exercise on breast cancer. Each woman was randomly assigned to either a diet-alone intervention, which consisted of 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day and less than 30 percent of calories from fat, or a diet plus exercise group. These women consumed the same number of calories but also engaged in 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise five days a week. All of the women received nutrition counseling, but no recommendations about snacking were given. The women were followed for one year.

In a press release, Anne McTiernan, a member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division, director of its prevention center, and lead researcher of the study said: "We think this finding may not relate necessarily to the time of day one snacks, but rather to the short interval between breakfast and lunch. Mid-morning snacking therefore might be a reflection of recreational or mindless eating habits rather than eating to satisfy true hunger."

The results of the study also showed that women snacked more in the afternoon than in the morning. Those who ate more than two snacks during the day consumed more fiber than those who snacked less often. Women who snacked during the afternoon consumed more fruits and vegetables compared to those who did not have a snack between lunch and dinner.

McTiernan suggests that dieters should snack in response to true hunger, and that snacking on healthy foods that can help with satiety may be beneficial for weight loss if it is not done too close to the next meal.

According to the researchers, 97 percent of Americans engage in snacking, a behavior that is seen in all age groups. The most commonly reported snacks are salty crunchy items like chips, pretzels, or nuts; cookies and cake; fruits; and ice cream.

Women who are dieting need to choose their snacks carefully. "Since women on a weight-loss program only have a limited number of calories to spend each day, it is important for them to incorporate nutrient-dense foods that are no more than 200 calories per serving," said McTiernan. She recommends low-fat yogurt, string cheese, a few nuts, non-starchy vegetables, fresh fruits, whole-grain crackers, and non-calorie beverages as snacks.

The study was published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Image: CandyBox Images/Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Beth Fontenot is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. She serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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