A new study has revealed a concerning pattern in the eating habits of U.S. adults. An average adult in the U.S. takes a meal's worth of snacks every day. These less nutritional snack choices constitute almost a quarter of daily caloric intake, and approximately one-third of daily added sugar, the study says.

Researchers from Ohio State University came up with these shocking findings after looking through the data of more than 20,000 people. On average, U.S. adults consume 400 to 500 calories a day in snacks, which is often much more than what they would eat for breakfast. The study was published in PLOS Global Public Health.

Although the snacking habit of Americans is well known, "the magnitude of the impact isn't realized until you actually look at it," senior study author Christopher Taylor said in a news release.

"Snacks are contributing a meal's worth of intake to what we eat without it actually being a meal. You know what dinner is going to be: a protein, a side dish or two. But if you eat a meal of what you eat for snacks, it becomes a completely different scenario of, generally, carbohydrates, sugars, not much protein, not much fruit, not a vegetable. So it's not a fully well-rounded meal," Taylor added.

The participants were over the age of 30 and were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2016. Researchers collected the dietary data of participants, including the details of what they ate and when they were consumed.

"Among the whole survey sample, snacks accounted for between 19.5% and 22.4% of total energy intake – while contributing very little nutritional quality. In descending order of proportion, snacks consisted of convenience foods high in carbohydrates and fats, sweets, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic drinks that include sugar-sweetened beverages, protein, milk and dairy, fruits, grains and, lagging far behind, vegetables," researchers wrote.

Participants who were controlling their type 2 diabetes ate fewer sugary foods and snacks compared to those without the condition. The team believes this is an indication that dietary education is beneficial to people with the disease.

"Diabetes education looks like it's working, but we might need to bump education back to people who are at risk for diabetes and even to people with normal blood glucose levels to start improving dietary behaviors before people develop chronic disease," Taylor said.

Based on their findings, researchers recommend substituting less nutritional snacks with healthier ones.

"We need to go from just less added sugar to healthier snacking patterns. We've gotten to the point of demonizing individual foods, but we have to look at the total picture. Removing added sugars won't automatically make vitamin C, vitamin D, phosphorus, and iron better. And if we take out refined grains, we lose nutrients that come with fortification," Taylor said.

Researchers say people should make snack choices after considering their overall daily dietary intake and checking if the selected snack aligns with their nutritional needs.