Dieters who indulge in a mid-morning snack will lose less weight than those who graze in the afternoon, new research suggests.
The study by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Public Health Sciences Division in Seattle, found that women who never snack between breakfast and lunch, lost 11% of their body weight in one year, compared to a 7% weight-loss for morning snackers.
"We think this finding may not relate necessarily to the time of day that one snacks, but rather to the short interval between breakfast and lunch," says Anne McTiernan from the study. "Mid-morning snacking therefore might be a reflection of recreational or mindless eating habits rather than eating to satisfy true hunger."
Researchers added that although mid-morning snacking can potentially sabotage a diet, it's important to snack throughout the day, but only if it's in response to true hunger.
"Individuals should determine if they experience long intervals - such as more than five hours - between meals. Adding a snack might help people deal better with hunger and ultimately help them to make more sound choices at their next meal," adds McTiernan.
In addition, the study found that women who ate more than two snacks a day, had a higher fibre intake than those who rarely snacked. What's more, afternoon eaters made healthier food choices and were more likely to eat fruit and vegetables and therefore more lose weight.
"Our study suggests that snacking may actually help with weight loss if not done too close to another meal, particularly if the snacks are healthy foods that can help you feel full without adding too many calories."
The researchers defined snacks as any type of food and drink consumed between meals and recommended that ideal, diet-friendly snacks should include nuts, non-starchy vegetables, fruit and no-calorie drinks like water and tea.
If you're a morning snacker, stick to healthy protein-rich snacks like these:
Spread peanut butter on wholemeal toast or crackers as a protein-rich snack. Peanuts are an excellent source of protein, with one tablespoon containing about four grams of protein.
A half cup of cottage cheese contains around 16 grams of protein, yet only has 102 calories and two grams of fat, as opposed to other cheese, where the protein benefits are counteracted by the high fat content. If you're not too keen on the cheesy taste, add a handful of berries or fruit to the bowl, or spread it on a wholemeal cracker for a savoury snack.
Egg white contains four grams of protein and is cholesterol-free. Whip up an egg white omelette for your lunch or some scrambled egg sandwiches for a tasty way to boost your protein intake.
Tuna fish is a great source of protein, with one tin can containing 25 grams of protein. Snack on it straight from the tin if you like it enough, or mix it with sweetcorn and a tiny bit of low-fat mayonaise to make a spread that you can have with pitta bread or crackers.
Although lentils can taste a little bland on their own, they can be easily added to your lunchtime salad or into a hearty homemade soup. Lentils are a great source of protein and an easy way to boost your protein levels. One cup of lentils equals to around 18 grams of protein.
A single cup of quinoa contains around 18g of protein and it can be easily added to homemade granola bars or cookies if you fancied a sweeter snack.
Beans contain a high level of protein and can be eaten in all different ways. Why not make a bean dip by blending different types together mixed with a little bit of olive oil? Or add them to a homemade soup and sprinkle them on your lunchtime salad.
A handful of raw, unsalted nuts, like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts are great snacks to keep handy throughout the day. You only need a small handful for your daily allowance on these, but they are high in fiber, protein, and "good" fats.