If you've been gaining weight in recent years and wonder why, you may simply be eating much more than you think you are. In the late 1970s, Americans consumed roughly 3.8 meals and snacks per day. The daily average is now 4.9, up some 29 percent in about 30 years. Those 4.9 meals and snacks add up to 2,375 calories per day - about one-third more than the average consumption in the '70s. Experts point out a contributing factor being the near-constant availability of food - 30 years ago, we didn't see junk foods displayed at the gas station, the drugstore and most other places we go from day to day. The new data comes from an analysis of four nationally representative food surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1977 and 2006. Research also shows that even rats get fat and show signs of diabetes when they can graze cafeteria style on snack foods. In a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, snack-grazing rats grew heavier than rats consuming a high-fat diet containing lard.
My take? These findings make sense. I don't think there's any escaping the fact that a big part of the obesity epidemic is over-consumption of low quality snack and junk foods. However, I don't blame snacking itself. Eating very small portions between meals is actually a good idea, as it can help keep blood sugar levels and energy steady, which leads to improved mood, better productivity and more effective appetite control. But if you're trying to lose weight or to eat a healthier diet, that convenient bag of chips can sabotage your efforts. Processed foods contain too many calories, the wrong kinds of fat and carbohydrates, and have too much salt and too many additives. Instead, plan snacks ahead of time and make sure you always have healthy ones on hand: fresh or dried fruit; raw, unsalted nuts (pistachios, cashews or walnuts); flavorful natural cheeses and dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa solids are all good options.
Read more: How to Eat in Seven Words