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Is A Fourth Meal Healthy For You?

Last updated Jan. 9, 2017

According to research introduced at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo, snacking constitutes 25% of the average intake of calories every day.


An alarming trend observed in the United States is the increasing role of snacking, or the “fourth meal” as part of one’s diet. According to research introduced at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo, snacking constitutes 25% of the average intake of calories every day.

Richard D. Mattes, Professor of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University, says that, “snacking has increased to become a ‘full eating event’ or a fourth meal”, with an average of 580 calories per day. Half of those calories are obtained from drinking beverages between meals. Between 2006 and 2008, the amount of time spent eating or snacking between meals has increased from 15 minutes to nearly 30 minutes every day. The time spent drinking beverages between meals has also jumped from 45 minutes to 85 minutes per day. However, the time spent eating primary meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) remained constant at 70 minutes per day.

A government survey titled “What We Eat in America” conducted between 2007 and 2008 found that most people snacking now are above 30 years of age and people are snacking more. Snacks provide an average of 24% of our calories and 1 in 6 people get over 40% of their calories from snacks. Thus, if 1 in 4 calories consumed is obtained from food eaten outside a primary meal, snacks are said to constitute a “fourth meal”.

Snacking need not be given up, but one must aim for them to account for no more than 300 calories per day, and be limited to fewer than 200 calories per snack. Therefore, soda pop, regular-sized candy, and large bags of chips are “prohibited”. There are some smart options to make the calories present in snacks count:

  • Fat-free Greek yogurt – It contains good amounts of protein and calcium.
  • Fresh fruit – Eating whole fruit is better than drinking fruit juice because it stays in the stomach for longer and keeps one feeling full.
  • Almonds – A handful of almonds (not more than that) is a nutritious snack.
  • Healthy fats and vegetables – A teaspoon of peanut butter with a celery stick is a tasty and healthy snack. Portions of peanut butter should be kept small, however.
  • Alcohol – Women should not drink more than 1 drink every day and men should not drink more than 2 drinks daily to limit calories.
  • Fat-free cappuccino or latte – It provides potassium, calcium, and vitamin D.
  • High-fiber cereal with milk – A half a cup of cereal could be taken along with half a cup of milk.
  • Pistachios and raisins – A tin of shelled pistachios and raisins can be kept in one’s bag for a quick, nutritious snack.
  • Flavored water/seltzer – One can add 1-2 ounces of juice for better taste, but not more than that.

Incorporating healthy snacks smartly into one’s diet will keep the amount of calories consumed under check and will aid one in maintaining an optimal weight. The 4th meal may not be unhealthy all the time!

References:

Jahns, L., Siega-Riz, A. M., & Popkin, B. M. (2001). The increasing prevalence of snacking among US children from 1977 to 1996. The Journal of pediatrics,138(4), 493-498. 

http://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/7_9/todays-newsbites/Snacks-Add-Up-to-a-4th-Meal_778-1.html (accessed on 2/5/2015)

http://blogs.einstein.yu.edu/snacking-the-fourth-meal/ (accessed on 2/5/2015)

http://www.ift.org/newsroom/news-releases/2011/june/20/snacking-constitutes-25-percent-of-calories-consumed-in-us.aspx (accessed on 2/5/2015)

http://www.alternet.org/food/7-highly-disturbing-trends-junk-food-advertising-children (accessed on 2/5/2015)

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Vitapole, D. (2005). Feeding frequency and the fourth meal-impact on metabolism and bodyweight. Nutriviews [newsletter] No. 23.

Vitapole, D. (2007). Feeding frequency and the fourth meal-impact on metabolism and bodyweight. Nutriviews [newsletter] No. 23. 2003.

McCrory, M. A., & Campbell, W. W. (2011). Effects of eating frequency, snacking, and breakfast skipping on energy regulation: symposium overview. The Journal of nutrition, 141(1), 144-147.

Vitapole, D. Feeding frequency and the fourth meal-impact on metabolism and bodyweight.

Louis-Poiroux, J. (2001). Food frequency and the fourth meal: impact on metabolism and body weight. Nutriviews-Danone Vitapole, 13.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Jan. 9, 2017
Last updated: Jan. 9, 2017