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One Third of ‘Empty Calories’ Come from Snacks

Americans are getting about one-third of all their daily calories from the “empty calories” of snack foods  - that is, from solid fats and added sugar of little nutritional value, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

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On a positive note, however, the ARS says one-third of Americans’ daily fruit intake — which is lower than recommended — is through snacks.

The ARS Food Surveys Research Group analysis, published Monday, looked at data on U.S. snacking habits, taken from interviews with more than 5,000 adults 20 years or older as part of the ongoing national “What We Eat in America” survey. Results from those surveys are reported in 2-year intervals.

The latest data show that the empty calories from snacks account for about 32 percent of the daily calories consumed by women and about 31 percent of the daily calories consumed by men.

The average intake of empty calories for men aged 20 and older surveyed was 923 calories per day. So men, on average, are consuming two to three times their limit in the solid fats and added sugars category.

For women aged 20 and older, the average intake of empty calories was 624 calories per day. So women, on average, are consuming almost two to four times their limit in that category.

Snacking has increased in recent decades in the United States, while percentages of the population who are overweight and obese have also increased, the ARS news release notes.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage reducing intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars, and there is a limit based on an individual’s overall calorie needs. To find your limit, go to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov. From there, click on “Supertracker and Other Tools” to create a profile and get your personalized nutrition and physical activity plan.

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