How 100-calorie snacks really work

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
May 15, 2008 4:36:20 PM PDT
We've all seen the 100-calorie packs of food sold in supermarkets. They are a marketing attempt to help people keep track of their food and their eating. But do they work? Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

The 100-calorie packs can certainly help us all control the number of calories we take in. But consumers who use them should know that it takes more than just the packs themselves.

Many of us certainly believe that good things come in small packages. It's true, at least, judging by the variety and popularity of the 100-calorie packets.

"When you want a cookie, it's good to actually be able to have a bag where you know it is 100 calories and you're not going too far off your diet," one consumer said.

"I know how many calories I'm getting and I don't have to worry about going overboard," another shopper told us.

So, they can keep you from over indulging, right? Well, both yes and no.

Dr. Amar Cheema, a marketing professor at Washington University in St. Louis, did a study on portion control.

One box of 24 cookies went to participants in one group. Individually wrapped cookies, 24 of them, went to participants in the second group.

How long did it take individuals to eat their cookies? The box was eaten up in an average of six days. But the partitioned cookies, those individually wrapped, were eaten in an average of 24 days.

Dr. Cheema says it's the "partition effect," the effect of dividing things up.

"What we find is that the partition can slow consumption for those people who are trying to control it," Dr. Cheema said.

So dividing things up, or partitioning, the concept behind 100-calorie packs, works?

Yes, but only for a time.

"The effectiveness of a partition decreases the more you get used to it," Dr. Cheema said.

To make 100-calorie snacking work for you, you have to pay attention, says nutrition professor Dr. Judith Wylie Rosett.

Don't keep a lot of packets or make them too easy to get, or you'll engage in mindless eating.

"When you have to work to get to the snack pack, you're stopping to think," Dr. Rosett said. "It's slowing you down, and you're not going to go from one right to the next."

So to control the urge to splurge, keep things divided up, like in the 100-calorie pack.

But don't make it easy for you to go for more than one, and keep track of how many you are eating. Because they are so-called guilt-free, you may be eating more than you normally would. It's all about both planning and paying attention.