100-calorie snacks: do they help or hinder portion control?
Published Wednesday, June 4, 2008 10:31AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 8:19PM EDT
If you're a snacker who's keeping tabs on the bathroom scale, 100-calorie packs of Doritos, Oreos and Kit Kat chocolate bars might seem like a dream come true. But these portion-controlled snacks might not help you eat less. Our nutrition expert, Leslie Beck, is here with more.
Question: It seems like a good idea - do these 100 calories snacks help you cut portion size?
Yes, the can provided you stop at one pack. They are helpful for people who can't control the amount they eat from larger packages. They provide built-in portion control makes helps prevent mindless eating.
Smaller packages of snack also can prevent overeating by introducing what researchers call a "transaction cost" - the cost of having to open up another package. This makes you stop and think about how much you're eating. So 100-calorie snack packs can prevent you from eating on automatic pilot. You're forced to decide whether or not to continue snacking.
100-calorie snack packs can also aid portion control by helping people visualize what 100 calories of food looks like. But according to some research, such awareness doesn't necessarily prevent overeating.
Question: So how can they make people overeat?
According to a new study from Arizona State University, 100-calorie snack packs actually boost consumption by just the type of people likely to buy these snacks - chronic dieters.
When faced with 200 calories worth of regular-sized M& M's versus the same caloric amount of mini M&M's packaged into four baggies, 18 percent of chronic dieters (also called restrained eaters) polished off all the mini M&M packages while only 4 percent did so when regular sized candies were offered in a larger package.
Unrestrained eaters - people who don't perpetually diet and don't have emotional ties to food - did the opposite. Nearly one-third ate more regular-sized candies from the larger package.
People have been conditioned to think that when food is tinier, and comes in smaller packages, it's something to help control calorie intake. But according to the researchers, when people see small pieces of food in multiple, but smaller packages, they perceive those packages as containing more calories. Researchers speculate the stress created by this conflict (e.g. how can diet food have more calories?) triggers restrained eaters to consume more food in smaller packages.
Question: What about fat and sugar content?
When it comes to nutrition, these snacks don't offer much beyond white flour, sugar and, well, 100 calories. Each 100-calorie Coffee Crisp has two teaspoons of refined sugar. Ditto for 100 calories worth of mini Oreos. Most 100-calorie snacks are highly processed and lack appetite-suppressing nutrients such as fibre, protein and healthy fats. They don't fill you up the same way an apple and yogurt can so you might be tempted to reach for a second package.
Question: Any suggestions for homemade 100 calorie snacks that are more nutritious?
Make your own snacks that contain some protein, fibre, carbohydrate along with a bit of fat.
- 1 small apple + 1 oz. skim milk cheese (7 per cent MF cheese)
- 7 baby carrots + 2 tbsp. hummus
- 1 tall (12 ounce) skim milk latte
- 3 fat-reduced Triscuit crackers + 2 teaspoons of peanut butter
- 15 plain almonds
- 3 dried apricots + 3 walnut halves
Question: So what's the bottom line Leslie?
When the urge to snack hits, and only cookie or bag of chips will do, 100-calorie snack packs can satisfy your craving for junk food. But I would not let them replace nutritious snacks that help keep your appetite in check during the day.