Snack Size Influences Eating Behavior and Sodium Intake

A recent study conducted by food scientists has revealed that the size of snack pieces, such as pretzels, not only affects how quickly they are eaten but also the overall amount consumed and the intake of sodium. 

Published online and set to appear in the June issue of Appetite, these findings could help health coaches guide clients in managing snacking habits more effectively, especially in a nation where snacks contribute nearly a quarter of daily calorie intake.

The research involved 75 adults who participated in controlled snacking sessions at a Sensory Evaluation Center. Each participant was given oversized snacks in one of three sizes—small, medium or large—and their eating behaviors, including rate, bite size, and duration, were meticulously recorded through video observations.

The results were telling: participants consumed significantly more when given large pretzels—31% more compared to small pretzels and 22% more than medium-sized ones. 

This was attributed to the larger pretzels encouraging quicker eating and bigger bites. However, the study also found that while smaller pretzels were eaten more slowly and led to a lower total caloric intake, they resulted in higher sodium consumption due to their greater surface area per unit of weight.

These findings emphasize the importance of considering snack size in dietary planning. When advising clients, especially those with weight management goals or sodium-related health concerns like hypertension, understanding the implications of snack size can be crucial.

Coaches might recommend choosing smaller snack sizes to clients focused on reducing calorie intake but caution against it for those who need to monitor their sodium levels.

John Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State and director of the Sensory Evaluation Center, notes that the geometry of food, including its texture, size, and shape, can be strategically used to modify eating behaviors and manage food intake without diminishing enjoyment. This insight could be particularly useful for health coaches seeking to develop eating strategies that do not make clients feel restricted.

Madeline Harper, the lead author of the study and a graduate student in food science, further explains the dual implications of snack size. She suggests that smaller pretzels might be better for those watching their calorie intake, while larger pretzels could be more suitable for those concerned with sodium intake.

These findings not only add a layer of complexity to how dietary advice is tailored but also provide a practical approach that health coaches can apply to help clients achieve more balanced eating habits. As snack consumption continues to be a significant part of daily calorie intake, this research provides a scientific basis for making more informed choices that align with individual health goals.

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