Skipping breakfast is associated with poorer diet quality among adults, but evidence of associations for other eating patterns [e.g., eating occasion (EO), meal, or snack frequency] is equivocal. An understanding of how eating patterns are associated with diet quality is needed to inform population-level dietary recommendations.
We aimed in this cross-sectional study to determine the relation between frequency of meals, snacks, and all EOs with nutrient intakes and diet quality in a representative sample of Australian adults.
Dietary data for 5242 adults aged ≥19 y collected via two 24-h recalls during the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey were analyzed. EO, meal, and snack frequency was calculated. Adherence to recommendations for healthy eating was assessed with the use of the 2013 Dietary Guidelines Index (DGI) and its subcomponents. Linear regression, adjusted for covariates and energy misreporting, was used to examine associations between eating patterns, energy-adjusted nutrient intakes, and the DGI-2013.
The frequency of meals, but not of snacks, was positively associated with micronutrient intakes, overall diet quality [men: β = 5.6 (95% CI: 3.9, 7.3); women: β = 4.1 (95% CI: 2.2, 5.9); P < 0.001], and DGI-2013 component scores for cereals, lean meat and alternatives, and alcohol intake (P < 0.05). A higher frequency of all EOs, meals, and snacks was positively associated with DGI-2013 scores for food variety, fruits, and dairy foods (P < 0.05). Conversely, a higher snack frequency was associated with a lower compliance with guidelines for discretionary foods and added sugars among men (P < 0.05).
These findings suggest that meal frequency is an important determinant of nutrient intakes and diet quality in Australian adults. Inconsistent associations for snack frequency suggest that the quality of snack choices is variable. More research examining the dietary profiles of eating patterns and their relations with diet quality is needed to inform the development of meal-based guidelines and messages that encourage healthy eating.