It seems counterintuitive to suggest that people should be snacking more, but a study published in the November 14, 2011, edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association concluded that increased snacking could positively impact overall diet quality.

Claire A. Zizza, PhD, associate professor of nutrition at Auburn University in Alabama, and co-author Beibei Xu, PhD, found that people who snack between meals tend to have healthier diets than those who stick to eating only at regular mealtimes. Study subjects who snacked more frequently consumed less sodium and ate more fruit, whole grains and milk than their counterparts. In addition, the more subjects snacked, the more likely they were to eat both healthy snacks and healthy meals. Still, frequent snackers fell short of eating enough vegetables, and the overall healthiness of study participants’ diets left room for improvement.

Zizza and Xu used data from 11,209 people aged 20 and older who participated between 1999 and 2004 in the larger National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which includes inter-views and physical exams. The researchers used a standard scoring system that ranks the healthiness of diets on a scale from 1 to 100 (100 being healthiest). They discovered that the more times a day people snacked, the higher they tended to score. Those who reported never snacking scored 49.3, on average, while those who snacked four or more times a day averaged 51.6.