Frito Lay experimenting with making healthier snacks

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One of the nation’s leading snack manufacturers is looking to corner the market on healthy treats.

Let’s face it: Lot of people love to eat snacks, yet at the same time, we vilify snack manufacturers as junk food outfits. Nobody has a bigger bull’s-eye on them than Pepsi’s Frito Lay brand, which is the dominant player in an industry mostly populated by regional companies.

The Washington Post reports that Frito Lay has set up a lab where food scientists are trying to develop healthier snacks. Frito Lay is working to reduce sodium, sugar and saturated fats, with all kinds of specific numerical targets they have in mind. In another example, they have come up with a way to give snacks a salty taste with less salt by applying it in a different way than they traditionally have.  

The question of how to win the battle of the shopping cart will be a big growth area in the future. I think of it as a symptom of the Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s phenomenon, where people go looking for snacks that are less junky than usual.

Speaking of healthy shoppers, my kids recently had a play date with executive producer Christa’s kids at their home. The play date happened to fall on my “Treat Day,” the one day of the week when I eat anything I want — fudge, cookies, ice cream, whatever.

I might gain 7 or 8 pounds on a single Treat Day and lose it within 2 days because I’m good during the rest of the week. I think of it like aversion therapy; eat as much junk food as I want one day a week and I won’t crave it the rest of the week. I really believe in Treat Day as a diet method because I need that weekly outlet or I find I can’t stick with my diet plan.

So when I was at her home looking for a treat, Christa gave me imitation baked organic Cheetos that she bought in the health food section of a regular grocery chain. To my surprise, the snack had a high calorie count. Christa claims she just looks at ingredients, though, when selecting snacks for her family. She has a bias for natural ingredients and the fewer, the better.

Meanwhile, did you know that Weight Watchers has completely updated its system for counting points? I don’t really understand how that works, but apparently they’ve gone to a system where calories from traditional snacks count one way, while calories from fruit don’t really count anymore at all. That has touched off a debate among nutritionists and weight control experts about whether giving people an unlimited pass for fruit is good or not.

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