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M&M's as diet food?

August 22, 2008 |  1:45 pm

Sure, they come in a cute small package, but 100 calories and 4 grams of fat from a mini-M&M pack, and maybe an additional 150 calories and 8 grams of fat from five of those little Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, and pretty soon you're talking real diet-busters.

Cookies1 A study with a free abstract in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who care the most about counting calories are the ones who consume more calories when packages are smaller. The researchers examined consumer behavior around those mini-packs, marketed to help people control calories.

"Interestingly, one group that over-consumes the mini-packs is chronic dieters -- individuals constantly trying to manage their weight and food intake," the authors write in a news release.

The small packages actually appear to undermine a dieter's intentions. People watching their weight look at the small pack and see a relatively large quantity of itty-bitty sweets. On the other hand, they take the small packaging and bite-sized sweets to be akin to diet food, the authors say.

Through a series of questionnaires, researchers divided people into groups labeled "restrained eaters" (or dieters) and "unrestrained eaters" (people with fewer dietary concerns). They found the dieters consumed more calories from mini-packs than from full-sized packages of the same foods. They also found that, presented with large versus small packages of potato chips, dieters were more reluctant to even open the large packages, but readily dug into the small-sized bags of chips.

It's a classic difference between what people want to believe, and reality.

-- Susan Brink

Photo: Don Bartletti Los Angeles Times

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