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In combination, protein and fiber not only replace empty calories with greater nutrient density, but also lower overall calorie intake from snacks.
Childhood obesity is a serious problem both globally and in the United States. The World Health Organization estimates that 43 million young children worldwide are overweight or obese.1 In the United States, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the past 30 years.2 In 2012, over one-third of American children were overweight or obese.3
While multiple factors contribute to childhood obesity, research indicates that behaviors associated with snacking are one of them. Recent DuPont Nutrition & Health research shows that, globally, children consume two to three snacks per day.4 American kids alone are consuming more than 1,000 calories in the form of afternoon and evening snacks. Possibly of greater concern than the amount of snacks consumed is the type or nutritional profile of snacks commonly consumed. Typical snacks contribute to daily intake of saturated fats and/or simple sugars, often classified as energy-dense foods, and make up more than one-fourth of the recommended calorie intake for nine-year-olds.5
The important message for parents is two-fold: first, that snacks contribute far too much to their children’s daily energy intake; and secondly, that, given the prominence of those snacks in a child’s diet, parents need to be especially aware of their nutritional quality in supporting healthy growth and weight management.
Promoting Satiety with Healthy Snacks
For many parents, the primary reason for giving children snacks is to stave off hunger until mealtime. The problem is that most snack-foods deliver carbohydrates, fats, and sugars, which tend to have the opposite effect-they lead children to crave additional snacks rather than satisfy their hunger. If, however, more snacks designed for children offered nutrient density (the ratio of essential nutrients to calories) in the form of protein and fiber, the nutritional value of these foods would go up, while their satiating properties would help reduce further cravings.
Offering snacks that provide greater satiety by way of higher protein and fiber content can help reduce overall food consumption, thereby making a significant impact on lowering the proportion of empty calories in children’s diets. Numerous studies have confirmed that protein is more satiating than either carbohydrates or fat, making it an essential player in efforts to manage and lose weight.
Boosting? Fueling? Fostering? Fiber Intake with Snacks
Fiber is lacking in most American diets. The average fiber intake of U.S. children and adolescents is less than half of the levels recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.6,11 Providing fiber through snacks can help enhance intake closer to reaching that daily fiber goal, as well as promote feelings of fullness. Compared to consuming a low-fiber diet, increased fiber intake has been shown to significantly lower perceptions of hunger on a satiety rating scale.7,8
The Benefits of Developing Protein-Rich Snacks
There are many varieties of protein that can be used to enhance snack foods. However, vegetable proteins have distinct advantages. For one, parents are often more receptive to adding vegetable protein to their child’s diet rather than increasing dairy or meat protein beyond the level their child already consumes. Vegetable protein is also more affordable and sustainable compared to animal-based proteins.
Of the vegetable proteins, soy may be the front-runner for replacing empty snack calories. Soy is the only widely available vegetable protein to provide all the essential amino acids in the amount needed to support growth and development of children. Additionally, the satiating properties of soy protein supports appetite control. A recent study showed that the replacement of a daily afternoon snack with a high-protein snack containing soy improved appetite in adolescents when compared with high-fat snacks. It also reduced unhealthy evening snacking.9
There are also heart-health benefits to soy that parents may not be aware of. Research shows that when children and teens with high cholesterol levels consume soy protein instead of animal protein as part of a low-fat diet, it helps reduce their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol.10 Behaviors that impact the risk of cardiovascular disease begin in childhood, with dietary habits among the primary factors. So starting early in life is key to promoting heart health.
It’s easy for parents to lose sight of how much children rely on snacks to feel satisfied. Developing snack options that offer more protein and fiber can help children meet nutritional goals and maintain a healthy weight. In combination, protein and fiber can make a difference, not only in replacing empty calories with greater nutrient density, but also in lowering overall calorie intake from snacks. Shifting food consumption from snacking to mealtime can also make those meals a more pleasant family experience.
Megan DeStefano is a global marketing leader at DuPont Nutrition & Health.
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