So, let’s say you’ve decided that you’re going on a diet. You want to slim down and eat “lighter” and “better,” so you hit the grocery store with your checklist and promise yourself you will only get things on your new, diet-approved list. You cruise the aisles seeing the plethora of “light” soup, “fat-free” salad dressing, non-fat yogurt, diet dinner meals and a ton of similar products, and you think, “eureka!” I can do this! I won’t even have to cook for myself!
Here’s the problem… these foods (for the most part) are not healthy foods. These foods are craftily packaged using psychology and behavioral science by advertising companies to lure you into thinking that if you eat these foods, then you’ll slim down and be able to keep eating the snacks, desserts, etc. that you were dreading giving up.
When it comes to these diet foods, whatever ingredient is “light” about them has to be compensated for. Here are some of the major offenders and why they’re bad:
- Diet soda – Now don’t get me wrong… I like to have a diet Coke every now and then just like everyone else. And yes, it costs me zero calories, so I don’t hate myself for it. (The same thing goes for Crystal light.) But the problem here is that if you drink more than one occasionally, you’re likely to get addicted to aspartame. This literally happened to my boyfriend. He was drinking maybe two liters of Crystal light water a day, and when he decided to stop (just , he started getting near migraines. It took him at least a week to feel normal again. These chemicals are seriously no joke, and your brain becomes dependent on them. There are a ton of other more sciencey side effects of diet soda that can actually lead to obesity because your body seeks out sweeter and sweeter things, but that’s more rare than what I’m talking about. A much healthier swap is stevia, which is a natural, zero-calorie sweetener. It’s awesome.
- “Light” packaged foods – They’re everywhere. “Light” salad dressing, “light” yogurt, “reduced-fat” peanut butter… the list goes on nearly forever. Yes, they have fewer calories than their normal counterparts, but the problem is at what cost. All of these foods include significantly more sugar than their normal versions. Sugar is really the enemy for many reasons (brain addiction, carbs, blood sugar issues), and the 20 more calories the normal version will cost you is much more preferable to the sugar you’d be getting instead. Which brings me to…
- Gluten-free food – Now, if you’ve been tested for and are positive for Celiac disease, then you should absolutely be eating a gluten-free diet. However, scientists have found that literally one percent of people actually have the condition requiring a gluten-free diet. Apparently, marketing has convinced twenty percent of Americans that they have it. Here’s the issue… gluten-free foods have to also make up for the flavor they lack from removing wheat gluten, which mean – you guessed it! – more sugar. It also requires that companies strip out the valuable nutrients contained in whole wheat breads leaving you with refined grains low in nutrients. There are naturally occurring foods that are gluten free, and you can of course eat those (they’re great for you!), but anything packaged as gluten free is not going to do a person with no gluten intolerance any favors.
- Lean cuisines – I’m a recovering lean cuisine aholic, I’ll admit. Who wouldn’t be? You can eat pasta dishes for every meal and not feel guilty. Sign me up! Except anything that sounds too good to be true pretty much is. Not only are you still eating lasagna made with refined carbs, but they’re full of sodium and chemicals to keep them good forever. Granted, I will say that eating one of these for dinner instead of ordering pizza is probably a good choice. If eating one of these will keep you from massive cheat temptation, then, like diet Coke, they’re ok occasionally.
- Sugar-free foods (mainly used in candy and cookies) – When I discovered sugar-free candy I thought I’d found God. I can eat all these and not eat any sugar? Where’s the catch?? Well, there is one, my friends. If you want a laugh, google sugar-free gummy bear reviews and laaaaaaugh away. Sugar-free foods contain sorbitol, which in even moderate quantities gives you major bloating and diarrhea. No thanks.
- “Organic” snacks – Just because it says organic on it doesn’t mean it a) won’t make you fat or b) is good for you. First, if it doesn’t say “USDA organic,” then it doesn’t mean anything. Literally. And even if it does have the USDA label, it doesn’t mean anything other than it won’t give you cancer in 40 years. Eating enough of even Annie’s whatever product will most definitely make you fat.
A final note about “diet foods” and things marketed toward women with pretty pink and lavender labels – skip them. If you want a really hilarious and enlightening read about a guy who ate “like a woman” with only products marketed to women for two weeks, then check this one out and see why “eating like a woman” basically just means slowly starving yourself.
So, what “diet” foods actually are good choices? Mostly Greek yogurt and two percent cheese. That’s pretty much it. The non-fat Greek yogurt has just been skimmed, so nothing good has been removed, and even the flavored versions have relatively low sugar. Lower-fat cheese is also part skim, which costs you fewer calories with the same amount of protein. And they’re just as delish.