July 7, 2014

Label Madness Monday: Why 100-Calorie Packs Piss Me Off




All right, dear readers, be honest with me: am I the only person who thinks these things are totally, completely, and utterly ridiculous?

They’re convenient. I get that. And as long as you have access to just one 100-calorie pack, they take willpower out of the equation. I get that, too.

I’m not saying the concept is ridiculous, just the way it’s executed.

My infuriation over these things is fourfold:
  1. They’re wasteful.
  2. They’re expen$ive. (No, really, like crazy expensive.)
  3. They assume we consumers are too lazy or too stupid to divvy out reasonable portions on our own. (Unfortunately, I think they may be on to something here, but in my heart of hearts, I’d like to give the American public more credit than that, and I’m not the only one.)
  4. They’re just plain ridiculous.



Let’s start with point number one: These things generate an inordinate amount of landfill fodder.

100-calorie packs are packaging nightmares. They’re all the same: a box or bag filled with lots of little boxes or bags. Are you kidding me? Couldn’t you just buy a big package of whatever the item is, and portion it out yourself into a smaller, reusable container? Most of the items offered in 100-calorie packs are not food safety hazards. They tend to be dry and non-messy. They’re usually cookies, crackers, pretzels, and the like. We’re not talking dairy or raw poultry, folks. So why couldn’t someone portion out one serving into, say, a glass or plastic container—one that they can reuse without even washing it until damn near the end of time? They could even use a zip-top plastic bag and reuse that a bunch of times, right? Like I said, we’re talking about foods that are not going to get messy or leave behind food-borne pathogens. There is no reason to put snack foods into a zip-top bag and throw the bag out every day after lunch when you're just going to put the same snack food into a new bag the next day and proceed to throw that one out, too. Why not reuse that bag until it’s no longer usable?

I’m no tree-hugger, and I’m not super-crunchy. (For example, I shave my underarms regularly and there isn’t even one pair of Birkenstocks in my shoe collection.) I’m not about to camp out high in a tree to protest logging activities, but I do try not to create unnecessary waste. I go out of my way to reuse and recycle. I don’t throw cigarette butts, empty water bottles, and gum wrappers out my car window while speeding down the highway. (This could be because I don’t smoke, rarely chew gum, and almost never buy bottled water, but MY POINT IS, I have to live on this planet, along with a few billion other people, and we’re going to pass it along to our collective children and grandchildren, so we might as well not crap up the place so much.)

Could you take 53 seconds after dinner to portion out a small amount of whatever the item is and drop that into a reusable container for your snack the next day? Could you not buy a bag that has lots of other bags inside it, all of which will end up in a landfill somewhere? (Maybe I'm extra sensitive to this issue because I was born and raised in Staten Island, NY, home to the Fresh Kills Landfill, formerly the world's largest garbage dump.)

Moving on to point number two:

These things are ridiculously expensive. They always—always—cost more than the normal package of whatever it is. Let’s check out some examples:


The package of Chips Ahoy! 100-calorie packs (at left) weighs in at a (not) staggering 4.86 ounces. (That's right, the whole box weighs less than half a pound.) The regular price is $3.49, or 71.9 cents an ounce. At the time this picture was taken, they were on sale for 2/$5, or 51.4 cents an ounce. Okay, yeah, the sale price seems like a bargain. Until, that is, we compare it to the price of the normal Chips Ahoy! package (to the right), which weighs 13 ounces, and normally sells for $4.19, or 32.2 cents an ounce. So even on sale, the 100-calorie packs cost 19.2 cents an ounce more than the non-sale price of the bigger package. (She said bigger package, hehheh…

Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but if we look at it in terms of price per pound, a difference of 19.2 cents would mean a difference of $3.07 for 16 ounces of this product. Now let’s see the gulf of difference created by the sale price of the regular package. 2 for $6, so $3 per package, or approximately 23.1 cents per ounce. 23.1 cents per ounce versus 51.4 cents per ounce. That’s a difference of 28.3 cents an ounce, or $4.53 per pound. Bottom line: when you get suckered into these ridiculous 100-calorie packs, you are paying $4.53 per pound more than you would if you just bought the regular package and divvied out a couple of cookies ahead of time. (Into your reusable container, of course.)

It’s the same story for Cheez-Its:

100 calorie packs (left): 4.62 ounces for the bargain price of $3.49 (or 75.6 cents/oz), which is about $12.10/pound. (Yes, you read that right – over TWELVE DOLLARS A POUND. For CHEEZ-ITS. And you thought grassfed beef and pastured pork were expensive?! They’re not.)

Regular package (right): 7 ounces for the regular price of $2.99 or the sale price of $2.50, so 42.7 cents/oz at the regular price, and 35.7 cents/oz at the sale price. Comparing this to the 100-calorie packs, at the regular price, the normal package is 32.9 cents/oz cheaper, and at the sale price, it’s 39.9/oz cents cheaper. (That’s a difference of $5.26 and $6.38 per pound, respectively.)

You are being totally and completely swindled if you buy these 100-calorie packs. But hey, if you like handing over extra money, and you have dollar bills to burn, be my guest. Who am I to judge how you like to spend the mountains and mountains of extra cash you have lying around? (However, if you’re looking for suggestions, I’ve never been to Greece or Italy, and if you are of a mind to purchase airfare and lodging for a kind stranger, I’d be happy to send you my address. Whee!)

Again, couldn’t you just buy the normal box of Cheez-Its and portion them out into your own cute lil’ reusable baggie or container?

I know I’ve made my point, but I can’t help giving just one more example. This time, let’s look at a higher-ticket item: almonds.

100 calorie packs (left): $15.96 per pound. (They’re kidding, right? Sixteen bucks a pound? And you thought the bulk bins at Whole Foods were pricey? Um, bulk almonds at WF usually go for about $6.99/pound. Even the organic ones don’t cost $16.00/pound.)
 
Regular package (right): $8.99/pound. (This package happens to be 16oz.) That, my friends, is a difference of $6.97. If you want to spend almost seven extra dollars to have your almonds pre-portioned into cutesie little bags, have at it. Honestly, I’m not here to tell you how to spend your copious amounts of disposable income. I just think you should know that if you’re spending it on these dumbass crazy things, you are quite literally disposing of it, as in, throwing it in the garbage. (And really, isn’t me sipping homemade wine and sampling olive oil from a 150-year old grove on Crete or in Tuscany a much better use of that money? I’m just saying…)

If you have money to burn, and you want to spend several extra dollars per pound on this stuff, go right ahead. I’m sure Blue Diamond, Keebler, Sunshine, and Nabisco’s CEOs are very grateful for your continued support. (I’m also sure you sleep better knowing their snot-nosed kids are driving around in Maseratis and summering at the French Riviera, thanks to your generosity. Have fun riding the bus to work tomorrow, suckazzz!)
  
Let’s move on to point number 3: laziness and stupidity

There is no limit to the depths of human laziness. I get that. And I also get that sometimes it’s worth whatever extra you have to pay in order to not have to take forty-two seconds out of your busy day to portion out your snacks into a smaller bag. But really? Really? Honestly and truly? This is what it’s come to? My amazement at people’s reliance on these things is probably just the result of points 1 and 2. With the completely unnecessary amount of extra waste these things generate, and the extra money they cost, I guess I just find it hard to believe people buy them.

But in all fairness, I have to acknowledge that I am single, childless, and have a fair amount of free time. I would have no problem carving out that extra forty-two seconds from my day. I don’t have three toddlers all under 6 years old clamoring for my attention and grabbing at the hem of my pants every time I try to throw back a shot cook breakfast or throw in a load of laundry. And I don’t arrive home at 10pm, exhausted from the demands of my $175,000/year job. So okay, maybe I’m not the best person to criticize wonder about the types of people who buy these things, thereby ensuring their continued production.

So there are people whose lives are made just a tiny bit more convenient with these. Fine. With that in mind, let’s move beyond the convenience issue and focus on point number 4, the utter ridiculousness of these 100-calorie packs.

Did you ever stop to think about what kinds of foods typically come in 100-calorie packs? You never see 100-calorie packs of cucumbers, do you? Or spinach? Eggplant? How about pork, or lamb? Nein, and nyet. With the exception of nuts, 100-calorie packs are almost always junkfoods—specifically, junkfoods that are designed to have a shelf life of approximately 87,000 years, preserved as they are with things like BHT and TBHQ, which are included to protect the partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils from going rancid before the next ice age. Bottom line: these are foods you don’t really want to be eating any of, although I suppose 100 calories’ worth is better than, say, half a box, which I may or may not have some past experience with. (Confession: Cheez-Its were a major favorite in my pre-low-carb days.)

So anyway, yes, these 100 calorie packs are almost always sugar-coated grains with a nice hit of vegetable oil. And they’re portioned the way they are for a reason: sugar-coated grains doused in vegetable oil are addictive and darn near impossible to stop eating long after you hit 100 calories. And even though the entire notion of “calories” is pretty suspect, I understand the importance of portion control. I get it. I really do. I’ve sat on the couch, in front of the TV, or with a book in my hand, and a bag of shelled walnuts or dark chocolate chips on the table, only to wonder an hour later who ate half the bag. (I could say the same for a jar of peanut butter.) If all I had available to me was 100 calories’ worth, then all I could’ve consumed is 100 calories’ worth.

If you bring a 100-calorie pack with you to work as a snack, then all you have access to is 100 calories. (Except for the zillions of calories available to you from the vending machine or office snack bar.) But like I said when I was talking about the waste issue, you can just buy one big package of whatever it is, portion them out yourself ahead of time, and achieve the same effect.  

I can’t rag too much on the fact that these “foods” are mostly junk. After all, that’s why they’re in 100-calorie packs to begin with. No one (that I know of, anyway) has portion control issues with radishes, or tomatoes, or collard greens. (Okay, maybe  some of us have portion problems when those collards are cooked long, low, & slow with bacon and/or a ham hock, but you know what I’m getting at.) The things that come in 100-calorie packs are treats. Things that most of us have a very hard time walking away from once we hit a reasonable portion.

But just for comparison’s sake, let’s check out the amounts of some real, whole foods you could eat for that same 100 calories:

Asparagus: 450g (.992 pounds – almost a full pound!)
Broccoli: 280g (.617 pound – over half a pound! That is a lot of broccoli!)
Carrots: 250g (.551 pounds – over half a pound!)
Cottage cheese 100g (.22 pounds – over a fifth of a pound!)
Eggs: 1½ large 
Gouda cheese: 1oz
Raspberries:  6.67oz (.417 pound – almost half a pound!)
Swiss cheese: 1oz

And of the foods on the list above, the only two that stand a chance of spiking the ol’ blood glucose are the carrots and the raspberries, and they sure ain’t gonna spike it much. And, of course, all the foods listed above would come with nutrients that are woefully absent from 100 calories of cookies, crackers, and chips.

We’re delicious. 
Don't run away.
(Curious about the carrots? My personal opinion regarding carrots is: Meh. In the very early years of my low-carbing, I was downright terrified of carrots. Seriously. Can you imagine? Scared to eat carrots. Sad, but true. But then I realized that while carrots have a higher glycemic index compared to many other vegetables, the glycemic load is very low—meaning, you would have to eat about a truckload of carrots to see a big effect on your blood glucose. [Note: individual tolerance does vary. Some people will be sensitive even to the small amounts of natural sugars in carrots.] For far too long I felt the same way about beets, which I also now enjoy occasionally, because they’re freaking delicious when prepared by someone who knows what they’re doing. But yeah. Being afraid to eat carrots and beets? All aboard for Crazy Town!)

And now, one last thing:

100-calorie packs are the food manufacturers’ Jedi mind trick. Skywalker and Solo had nothing on these people!

Why do I say this? Well, let’s look at what 100 calories actually gets you with some of these foods. 100 calories nets you a whopping 0.77 ounces of Cheez-Its. 0.77 ounces! Not even one ounce of food! In terms of curbing your hunger, you might as well not even eat this at all. Swallow a few breaths of air and you’ll probably feel fuller than you would after eating a pack of these. And the Chips Ahoy? 0.81 ounces. Also less than a single ounce of food. And take a look at the appearance of the Chips Ahoy! and Oreos. The ones in the 100-calorie packs look different than the regular ones. Know why? They have to make them miniature so you feel like you’re eating a lot of little cookies. They trick you into thinking you get to eat lots of cookies because the truth is, 100 calories would not even get you two whole Chips Ahoy! or Oreo cookies. Check out the labels on the regular packages: 

If 3 Chips Ahoy! cookies come in at 160 calories, that means they’re 53.33 calories per cookie. And at 53.33 calories per cookie, you would be at 100 calories before you even finished a second cookie!
Chips Ahoy!

Same deal with the Oreos. They make these weird, flat, devoid-of-cream Oreo impostors because the normal Oreos have the same calories as the Chips Ahoy: 53.33 per cookie, which means you couldn’t even consume two Oreos before reaching your 100-calorie limit.
See? They’re not even real Oreos.

Regular Oreos label

These 100-calorie packs make you think you’re getting a lot of cookies, when what you’re actually getting is ripped off and insulted a teeny, tiny amount of food that will most likely only leave you wanting more. (More cookies, that is; not more broccoli or more radicchio.) It only looks like you get more cookies. Because they make these mini cookies, you’re fooled into thinking there's a decent amount there because you get to eat 10-15 cookies instead of 1.875 (100 calories’ worth of the regular size cookies). See? I told you these were some serious head games. (Kind of like when they tell you to use a smaller plate to trick yourself into eating less at dinner. Um, I’ve tried that, and I ended up going back for seconds, so unless you find me a small plate and also incapacitate me so I can’t get up and get myself another helping, that is a dumb not especially effective strategy.)

Someone out there, please tell me you hate these 100-calorie crime sprees as much as I do.





Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.

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