If you feel yourself reaching for cake and biscuits after lunch, you’re not alone.
New research suggests we are more likely to eat unhealthy snacks as the day progresses because we’re conditioned to feel it’s more socially acceptable to do so.
While most of us wouldn’t dream of eating multiple biscuits for breakfast, traditions such as “afternoon tea breaks” mean we don’t think twice about it after lunch.
During the study, researchers from Flinders University and the University of Liverpool monitored the eating preferences of 304 undergraduate women aged between 17 and 25.
They found that women were more likely to view unhealthy snacks negatively in the morning than the afternoon.
“Our findings showed a tendency to automatically think of unhealthy snack foods in a more positive manner as the day progressed, which previous research has shown to contribute to greater craving, desire, and ultimately, consumption of those foods,” Dr Ashleigh Haynes from Flinders University said.
“This highlights that it might be especially important to implement strategies that replenish our capacity to control automatic responses, or limit the availability of unhealthy snack foods later in the day, when we tend to evaluate those foods more positively.”
More research is needed to determine exactly why we’re drawn to unhealthy snacks later in the day, but dietician Dr Kacie Dickinson, believes the results might be explained by “our commonly accepted standards for snacking”.
“Think afternoon tea breaks and the foods we consider usual to consume at these times – like cakes, donuts, biscuits, chocolates and salty snacks,” she commented on the study.
“Unfortunately, many common snack foods we eat are highly processed, with high amounts of sugar, fat and salt, so potential strategies to reduce people’s intake of these foods is really important.”
The researchers also noted that we may become less able to control the thoughts we automatically have about food (for example, the thought that cake is delicious) as the day goes on, which may explain why we’re more prone to snacking when we’re tired.
They added that snacking is unnecessary for most people if you have three balanced, satisfying meals, but for those who do feel hungry after breakfast, lunch or dinner, they recommend eating healthy snacks such as “a piece of fresh fruit, 1/3 cup of unsalted nuts or a small tub (170g) of natural yoghurt”.
The findings are published in the journal Food Quality and Preference.