Advancing age does have perks: wisdom, recreational vehicles and, now, sanctioned snacking. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition...

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Advancing age does have perks: wisdom, recreational vehicles and, now, sanctioned snacking.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002, Claire Zizza, a researcher at Auburn University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science, compared the diets of more than 2,000 senior citizens 65 and older.

She found that the 84 percent who snacked consumed significantly more daily calories (protein, carbohydrates and total fat) than those who didn’t.

While snacking is the bane of most dieters, it could be good for older people, a population vulnerable to under-eating, Zizza says.

“As people age, their calorie intake tends to decrease for any number of reasons — changes in taste sensations, medical conditions or depression,” Zizza says. “When you start to lose weight as an older individual, that’s a sign of failing health.”

Healthful snacking has particular merit for older people, agrees Colleen Sundermeyer, nutritionist and author of “Emotional Weight: End Diet Behavior Forever.”

Older people generally eat more slowly, she says, which causes them to reach satiety sooner.

“Snacking doesn’t leave the elderly feeling too full and uncomfortable,” she says.

This matters because when the body runs out of fuel, it begins to break down muscle, bones and organs.

The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.