It’s a pretty safe bet that most folks looking to lose weight would rather take the silver bullet approach to dieting and go for the microwaveable-ready meal road to a slimmer, sexier body, than spend 2 hours a day sweating it out in the gym.
It’s an unhealthy fact that weight loss shortcuts sell, and diet food laden with their low fat promises have, in recent years, proven to be a gold mine for the diet industry.
If you’ve ever bought a low fat ready meal, you’ll already know that the dish you serve is never as tasty or healthy as it appears on the packaging. Almost every junk food on the market today is cleverly disguised as a healthful snack, and advertisers are constantly finding new ways to get us to spend our cash on false promises that simply don’t deliver.
Here’s the low down on diet food, and why these products are anything but the answer to long term weight loss success.
4 Diet Food Tricks
1. “Low Fat” Doesn’t Mean “Healthy”
Food labelling is a minefield for dieters. Take the words “lite” or “light” for example. Both phrases imply that the product in your basket is low in fat, but in reality, these are the terms manufacturers use when their product doesn’t meet the FDA official definition of “low fat”.
For example, some popular, light cream cheese spreads contain less fat than the original equivalent, but can be loaded with up to 35% more sugar. As excess sugar gets stored in the body as fat, with many products, you’re often better off consuming the full fat version.
The term “low fat” can be just as misleading. All this means is that the product is 30% lower in fat than the standard equivalent. Imagine you take a cheeseburger and cut out the middle, there’s no denying this would make it lower in fat than its full fat counterpart, but does this really make it a healthy choice for people who want to lose weight? However you look at it, it’s still a high fat food.
2. What About Sugar?
Low in fat doesn’t mean low in sugar or calories. What most people don’t realize is that when you take the fat out of food, you also remove the flavor. To compensate, manufacturers add a whole range of nasty ingredients like sugar, artificial flavors and fillers like methyl cellulose to help create the illusion of fullness, and give the product what’s known in the industry as “mouth feel”. Although the food may initially taste good, its low nutrient content will ultimately leave you feeling unsatisfied, and often craving more food.
Low fat yogurts are one of the worst offenders. Some products labelled as “fat free” can contain the equivalent of up to 5 teaspoons of sugar, making these “healthful treats” anything but the innocent product the marketing people would have us believe. Don’t be fooled.
3. Chemicals That Keep You Hungry
Ever eaten a take-out meal and felt hungry thirty minutes later? It may have contained MSG (monosodium glutamate,) a highly addictive compound in the form of concentrated salt, which is added to diet foods in order to enhance the flavor.
MSG stimulates the areas in your brain that control appetite, making you want to continue eating even when you’re stomach is full. MSG has been shown to trigger the release of insulin into your blood stream, causing cells to absorb more glucose from your blood.
This is certainly bad news for dieters, as it has the effect of sending your blood sugar levels through the roof. MSG is an excitotoxin and can be found in a wide range of products.
Current labelling laws mean that MSG has around 40 different names, making it very difficult to spot. It’s most commonly seen on labels as glutamate (E620), yeast extract, or hydrolysed protein.
4. Marketing Psychology
Studies have shown that instead of reading the label, many people simply underestimate the amount of calories in low fat diet products and therefore unwittingly give themselves permission to eat larger portion sizes. People tend to feel less guilty when eating low fat foods, and so are often tempted to indulge in treats or overeat.
For example, a low fat muffin, which may contain 60% less fat than a regular muffin, may only have 15% less calories. In this instance you’re far better off eating just one full fat cake, rather than two of the low fat equivalents.
The message is simple. If you choose to eat low fat products, don’t automatically assume you can eat more.
Related: How to Make Healthy Food Choices
Low fat diet foods are doing little to halt the growing global obesity crisis and are anything but a quick fix for weight loss. It makes far more sense, both for your health and your wallet, to create your own simple nutritious recipes, made with good quality organic produce if you’re really serious about losing weight. This way you control the portion size and know exactly what you’re eating.
Sarah Murphy trained at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London, England, where she specialized in Western Herbal Medicine and Ayurveda. She writes widely about natural health, and is passionate about empowering people to take better care of their own well-being.