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Why Reaching For Diet Snacks Can Seriously Backfire

It's not just about what's inside -- it's about how we're eating them.
Hand reaching popcorn
Hand reaching popcorn

You may already know that so-called "diet foods" can sometimes be worse for you than the full-fat varieties they're supposed to replace. But in addition to their nutritional qualities, new research suggests that the way we eat "light" snacks may be making them even worse for our health.

According to a study to be published later this year by the International Journal of Research in Marketing, people who eat "light" snacks and drinks such as baked potato chips or diet soda are likely to eat 13 percent more calories than people eating full fat snacks. That's because it's easier to justify overindulging when a food is labeled as healthier, according to the study's lead author, Joost Pennings, a finance and marketing professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Pennings told The Huffington Post that while the snacks themselves can be effective, it's a matter of how we react to the label.

"'Light' products may help, but behavioral responses to the light claim may wash out the positive effect," he said. "Understanding the psychological effect of the claim that a product is 'light' need further investigation to ensure that 'light' results in a lower calorie intake by consumers."

This so-called "health halo" effect is nothing new. A study from Sept. 2015 found that if you drink diet soda, you're more likely to indulge in other junk foods like cookies and candy. Ruopeng An, that study's author, suggested that perhaps people "feel less guilty about consuming more calories after drinking a diet beverage, and therefore they feel justified in eating muffins or chips."

So what should people who are trying to watch their weight reach for instead? Perhaps one of these 13 healthy snacks might do the trick.

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