As a nation, we love our food and we want it faster than ever.
And whether it’s due to a rash of new diet plans recommending we eat more often to keep our metabolic furnaces stoked or whether we’retaking a cue from our caveman-era roots, one in five Americans has replaced three square meals a day with all-day snacking.
Back in the 1970s, when obesity rates were at about 15 percent, almost half of Americans said they hadn’t eaten any snacks the previous day, according to research from the USDA.
Today, only about four percent of Americans skipped a snack yesterday, and tellingly, our obesity rates have risen to about 40 percent.
And we don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
According to a new study from Information Resources, Inc. that appeared in its publication Times & Trends, one in five Americans now favor serial snacking over regular meals.
Times & Trends calls the estimated 21 percent “opportunist” eaters, or those “who grab food and drink throughout the day as the opportunity arises, with little consideration as to whether they are eating a meal or a snack.”
“The eating habits and attitudes of traditional three-square-meals-a-day eaters have been studied extensively for years, said Times & Trends editor Susan Viamari. “While this segment is still important, you simply cannot deny the emergence of this new on-the-go eating segment.”
The study, which included 3,000 Americans, found that about two-thirds of opportunist eaters are female and single, suggesting that those without families pay less attention to specific meal times and instead eat when they are able, without being tied to a clock.
Overall, the study found that those who planned meals made healthier choices than those who ate on the go.
“Planners are much more inclined to factor healthy eating into their daily regimen,” Viamari said. “For instance, 36 percent of opportunists versus 31 percent of planners split their healthy and indulgent behaviors equally, eating healthy half the time and eating more freely the rest of the time.”
Also significant from the Chicago-based firm’s study: Although half of the participants reported that they liked cooking, they were more likely to choose convenience foods, while one third said they preferred heat-and-eat foods over those prepared from scratch.
So what does this mean for our health?
The move toward eating prepared foods means fewer of us are paying attention to preservatives and hidden fats, sodium, and sugars that are often included in processed foods to make them taste better.
For those with diabetes, processed foods can be especially problematic because they tend to be high on the glycemic index.
That means because they’re refined, they are processed and used as energy quickly, causing blood sugar levels to spike, then quickly plummet, leaving you lethargic and as hungry as if you hadn’t even eaten a meal or snack.
Whole foods–fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains–are cheaper, less likely to contain additives such as kidney-damaging phosphates and make better overall choices for consumption, experts say. Not only are you more likely to live better, according to Prevention magazine,
you are more likely to life longer as well.
According to a 2012 study that appeared in the journal Public Health Nutrition, those who cooked at home at least five nights a week were 47 percent more likely to be alive after 10 years than those who made more of a point to choose processed foods.