100 calorie snacks

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(HOST) Cold weather and weight gain don’t necessarily have to go together. Commentator Rachel Johnson says you can take the guesswork out of portion control with 100-calorie snacks.

(JOHNSON) What do nine nacho chips, twenty-three mini chocolate wafers, and a half pound of carrots have in common? Each contains one hundred calories. You’ve probably noticed the “100 Calorie” label on everything from cookies and chips to soft drinks. In spite of the fact that shoppers pay two to three times the price for these products, they’re selling like crazy. Why? They take the guesswork out of portion control.

The 100-calorie concept was inspired by obesity expert James Hill, one of the brains behind “America on the Move,” a program that aims to motivate people to take two thousand more steps, the equivalent of about one mile, and eat one hundred fewer calories each day. At a recent obesity conference I asked Jim how he came up with the magic number. A few years ago, his research team examined data from national surveys and found that on average Americans between twenty and forty years old are gaining about two pounds per year. They calculated that if people increased their physical activity and reduced their food intake by just one hundred calories a day, it should prevent this slow steady weight gain in ninety percent of the population.

The concept is simple enough. But large portion sizes, which haunt Americans, are a barrier. Research has clearly demonstrated that the more we are served, the more we eat. A Penn State study found that when people were presented with portions that were twice as big as a standard portion, men ate eight hundred and twelve extra calories a day and women ate five hundred adn thirty extra calories. That additional food could translate into a pound to a pound-and-a-half of weight gain in one week. In a separate Cornell University study, movie-goers were given fourteen-day-old popcorn in two different-size containers. People described the popcorn as terrible: soggy and stale – but still ate thirty-four percent more of it from the larger container.

Instead of grabbing a random calorie-laden snack when you get a craving, make your own 100-calorie snacks. You may need to count out the whole-grain crackers or check the label on the dried fruit the first few times, but you’ll quickly learn the right amount. Faced with a monster-size cookie, which I know is loaded with calories, I’ll break off a piece and leave the rest. At home, rather than eat directly from the bag, I’ll put a 100-calorie portion into a small bowl. Believe it or not, a recent study showed that just using small bowls and spoons reduced the amount of ice cream people ate.

Ideally, all of the day’s calories come from healthy foods. If you opt for prepackaged snacks, try to choose those with a nutritional advantage. But even if you choose Oreos, take only two and you’ve limited your calories. Then after reining in your snack calories, be really good to yourself and burn up an extra one hundred with a brisk twenty-minute walk. You’ll be much more likely to avoid that creeping weight gain.

Nutritionist Rachel Johnson is Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UVM and an advisor to EatingWell magazine.

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