When it comes to giving children snacks, having a healthier array of options may cut down on calorie-intake while still keeping kids full, new research suggests.
Scientists found that children who were given snacks of vegetables and cheese or just plain cheese had the same levels of satiation compared to those given potato chips, meaning they were just as full. However, the vegetable and cheese groups reported significantly lower intake of calories.
"There is no magic food or ingredient that will end childhood obesity, but learning to substitute certain foods --- such as choosing a combination snack of vegetables and cheese instead of potato chips or sweets --- can be an effective tool to induce children to reduce their caloric intake while snacking," study author Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell University in New York, said in a written statement.
Researchers asked a group of 201 children in the third through sixth grade to eat one of four snack types: potato chips, cheese, vegetables or a combination of cheese and vegetables. They were then instructed to eat as much as they wanted until they were full while watching a 45-minute cartoon. Meanwhile, scientists tracked their caloric intake.
The subjects were also asked to rate how full they were before they began to eat, while they were eating and 20 minutes after they finished eating. Their parents were asked to fill out a survey about their family.
On average, children who had cheese and vegetables ate 72 percent fewer calories than those in the potato chip group, even though cheese is generally considered to have a high fat content. The cheese and vegetable group also needed fewer calories to feel full. Even the group that ate just cheese consumed fewer calories than those who ate potato chips.
The observations recorded about caloric intake were more significant in children who were overweight or obese and those who had low-involvement families.
"Snacks that are higher in fiber and have more protein, like we find in cheese and vegetables, leave your kids feeling fuller and they're likely to eat less," Carrie Gonzales, a pediatric dietician with the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, told the Kentucky Post.
Gonzales, who was not involved in the study, said healthy eating habits boiled down to what parents were giving their children to eat.
"I think it always goes back to what's being offered in the home. So, if we do offer more healthful choices like vegetables or cheese versus potato chips your child will actually eat them. It's just about what you have available," she said.
The study was published online in Pediatrics on Dec. 17.