Want some taste with that ice cream?

Chocolate ice cream
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But in order for that to work you have to eat the snacks in moderation. It becomes a problem when people overestimate how much more they can eat of nonfat ice cream or low-calorie chips, says Kelly Brownell, a nutritionist at Yale University.

"If consumption of ice cream and potato chips does not increase and people eat somewhat better versions, the outcome will be good," Brownell says.

TASTE IS KEY

First, companies have to convince dieters that their mid-calorie snacks are not only healthy, but tasty too.

Flavor is a key when Betty Kranzdorf, 55, considers eating foods with lower calories. She says she avoids reduced-calorie English muffins ("horrible texture and taste") but she'll pick up reduced-fat Pringles chips because she can't tell the difference between those and the originals.

"I won't buy 'low cal' just because it's 'low-cal,'" says Kranzdorf, a paralegal from New York. "If the food I'm eating isn't satisfying, then I'll just go eat something that is more to my liking later — which defeats the whole purpose."

With that in mind, Hershey's in June introduced Simple Pleasures, chocolate with 30 percent less fat. A serving size of six pieces equals 180 calories and 8 grams of fat — that's 30 calories and 5 grams of fat less than the original Hershey's chocolate bar. The company is hoping the deficit is enough to lure chocolate lovers who want to eat healthier.

Hershey's developed the product after consumer research revealed that the No. 1 barrier for people to buy chocolate is the "perceived negative health benefits," says spokeswoman Anna Lingeris.

"We're hearing more and more that customers want healthier options as a balanced lifestyle becomes a more prevalent way of living," Lingeris says.

Similarly, Lay's in July rolled out two new flavors of its Kettle Cooked potato chips with 40 percent less fat. The brand, which fries chips in small batches so as to use less oil than the continuous frying process for regular chips, introduced "Smokehouse BBQ" and "Cooked Sun-Dried Tomato and Parmesan."

The company says it was able to lower the calories and fat without sacrificing taste: Regular Kettle Cooked chips have 160 calories and 9 grams of fat, while the reduced-fat versions have 130 calories and 6 grams of fat.

"The strategy behind mid-calorie offerings is finding the happy space between zero fat and regular products," says Tony Matta, vice president of marketing for Frito Lay, which makes Lay's chip brands.

But sometimes finding the right balance isn't enough — marketing can be key. Dreyer's/Edy's (it's called Dreyer's on the West Coast and Edy's on the East) learned that the hard way.

The company in May rolled out an ad campaign that emphasizes that Slow Churned ice cream is half the fat and one third of the calories of regular ice cream — but the company avoids using the word "light."

Why? Because when Dreyer's/Edy's began selling Slow Churned ice cream in 2004, the company labeled the product "light." But ice cream buyers didn't take to the word, and the company stopped advertising the brand using it. In fact, the company eventually stopped advertising the product altogether after 2007, although it still sold it in stores.

"'Light' used to be a word that consumers had a lot of negative perception ... because of the taste experience," Eiseman says. "For ice cream, taste is king, first and foremost ... they'd rather have great taste and half the fat, rather than OK taste and no fat."

The new packaging and ad campaign for the product, which has about 120 calories and 4.5 grams of fat compared with 150 calories and 8 grams of fat in regular Dreyer's mint chocolate chip, has the tagline "1/2 the Fat, 1/3 Fewer Calories than Regular Ice cream." (The company acknowledges that 4.5 grams of fat is not quite "half" of 8 grams of fat, but Dreyer's/Edy's brand manager Jen Eiseman says the marketing campaign took a the liberty of rounding in order to focus on the healthier aspects of the slow-churn ice cream.

"There's been a shift culturally from extreme dieting ... and giving up food altogether," Eiseman says. "Now it's not about giving things up, but finding healthier ways of having it all."