Health experts say 100-calorie snacks, such as the Nabisco products shown, don't help dieters lose weight and may increase cravings for sweets.
For the past couple of years, certain companies have offered small portions of snack foods bundled in 100-calorie packs. About 175 products — among them Nabisco's Oreos and Teddy Grahams, Hershey's Dark Chocolate and, yes, even Hostess' Twinkies, in the form of Twinkie Bites — come in small sizes. Do they work?
The answer is a qualified "hardly."
Annette M. Hudson, of myfitnesstrainer.com and a personal trainer, said her clients have had, at best, mixed results cutting back on calories with the packs.
"For some, it's the perfect solution to portion control, allowing an occasional treat," Hudson said. "For others, the danger of temptation is too great, and they need to keep all junk food out of the house."
She suggests dieters pay attention to their eating habits, and if they feel they can't fight the temptation to eat more than one pack, then place the box in the freezer. Set out one pack to defrost each night, to be consumed the next day. She said if that doesn't work, throw away the box or give it to someone who has more control.
"I am a big promoter of meals and snacks," said Raina Childers, a registered dietitian and nutrition services coordinator at HealthPoint Fitness. "They are important for metabolism, physical satisfaction and getting all your nutrition in daily."
But do 100-calorie Twinkie bites and Chips Ahoy cookies have a place in a healthy daily diet?
"Probably not all the time," Childers said. "But a 100-calorie sweet can provide satisfaction for some without blowing their calorie budget."
Still, she suggests fruit to sate your sweet tooth and provide a "better nutrition punch."
Beverly Rothstein, president of Your Slim Vision, lost 40 pounds four years ago — and kept it off — after trying "every weight loss program you can name." She credits her success to a change in attitude more than a product.
"Until your mind changes, and you have a very firm picture of a slim you, you will never be able to keep the weight off," Rothstein said. "The mind is extremely powerful, and that's the thing you need to harness."
Susan B. Roberts, a professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University and co-author of "The Instinct Diet: Use Your Five Food Instincts to Lose Weight and Keep It Off," said five triggers move us to eat: hunger, availability, calorie density (the more calories, the better), familiarity (the appeal of comfort food like mashed potatoes) and variety (the more choices we face, the more we tend to eat).
But Roberts agreed that some people can't stop at 100 calories, and then "the whole idea backfires." She suggests adding healthy alternatives to every 100-calorie pack. Eat the small amount of Oreos and an apple.
Other personal trainers are less hopeful about the products.
"One-hundred-calorie snack packs are another way an incredible number of people make sound nutrition complicated," said Uche Odiatu, personal trainer and, with his wife Kary, co-author of "The Miracle of Health: Simple Solutions, Extraordinary Results," coming out this month.
"Dieting by itself will go down in human history as one of the worst medical interventions," he said. "Ninety-five percent of all dieters who do not exercise will return to their prediet weight within two years. All of the successful people who lost weight and kept it off exercise as 50 percent of their healthy living tools."
Ariane Hundt, a New York nutritionist and personal trainer, said the snack packs often contain sugar, and "there's a big difference between eating 100 calories of salmon or chicken versus eating 100 calories of the sugar, which is the main ingredient in the 100-calorie packs. While lean protein promotes fat-burning and satiety, the sugar increases blood sugar, promotes fat storage and creates cravings for more sugar.
"So, most likely, one little bag is just not enough to give the satisfaction the dieter craves in the first place."
Features editor Chris Harris contributed to this report.