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Some of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies accomplished a major feat, and it has nothing to do with supersizing. In 2010, 16 companies pledged to remove one trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace by 2012 and another 0.5 trillion (trillion!) by 2015. They exceeded their initial goal by more than 400 percent.

As a part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, the companies banded together to cut 6.4 trillion calories by 2012 (compared to 2007), according to the findings of a study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The companies included in the pledge:
  • Bumble Bee Foods, LLC
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • ConAgra Foods (includes Ralston Foods)
  • General Mills, Inc.
  • Hillshire Brands (previously Sara Lee Corporation)
  • Kellogg Company
  • Kraft Foods Group/Mondelez
  • Mars, Incorporated
  • McCormick & Company, Inc.
  • Nestlé USA
  • PepsiCo, Inc.
  • Post Foods
  • The Coca-Cola Company
  • The Hershey Company
  • The J.M. Smucker Company
  • Unilever

As of right now, it’s not clear how the companies accomplished the huge calorie reduction. Some reports suggest the companies pulled off the massive calorie decrease by subbing low-calorie snacks and beverages for higher calorie versions (a no brainer), reducing portion size, and by “re-engineering” existing products — for example, reducing sugar and salt levels and creating products in new ways (i.e. “slow churned” ice cream).

Though reducing portion size (with the ever-popular 100-calorie snack packs, for example) is a proven way to control weight, it’s concerning that consumers may be duped by labels suggesting a healthier product, rather than one that’s just been packaged differently Overweight and obesity - use of portion control in management. Clark, A., Franklin, J., Pratt, I., et al. Great Ideas in Nutrition, Coolangatta, Queensland, Australia. Australian Family Physician. 2010 Jun;39(6):407-11. Portion distortion: typical portion sizes selected by young adults. Schwartz, J., Byrd-Bredbenner, C. Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2006 Sep;106(9):1412-8. . While it’s great to see companies make strides to reduce the consumption of high-calorie snacks, we should also consider the overall nutrition profile of pre-packaged snacks, beyond just calorie content. Until we see the full study (expected to be published later this year) and understand the companies’ methods used to slash calories, we can’t really know whether their efforts have had a positive effect on consumers' health.

Do pre-portioned foods help you keep snacking in check? Would you buy your favorite grocery store snacks if offered in lower-calorie versions? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.

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