More than 300 women, aged 17 to 25, were targeted in the research with their responses to cake in the morning versus their responses in the afternoon monitored.
“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,” says Dr Ashleigh Haynes a Flinders University psychology researcher.
“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.”
She says the beliefs we have about the kind of foods that are appropriate for consumption at certain times may also be partially responsible for the way we respond to those foods.
Flinders University lecturer in nutrition and dietetics, Dr Kacie Dickinson, says 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 says.
Dickinson says healthy snack options for between meals can include a piece of fresh fruit, 1/3 cup of unsalted nuts or a small tub (170g) of natural yoghurt.