They’re everywhere these days. Processed foods and beverages claiming to be “low-fat,” “gluten-free,” or “low-calorie,” and – let’s face it – many of us are eating them up (no pun intended). Are all of these foods that claim to be better for our health really healthy? The answer might surprise you.
“Diet” Foods & How They’re Ruining Your Health
Just like with everything else, nutrition has a certain amount of information to wade through, and it can be difficult to figure out what’s true and what isn’t.
Because obesity has become an epidemic in America (As of 2014, 22 states had an adult obesity rate of 30% or higher, according to The State of Obesity website) you’ve no doubt seen an influx of low-fat and fat-free food items hitting the shelves at your local grocery stores. Gluten-free foods are also growing in popularity, especially among people who have voluntarily chosen to cut gluten from their diets, whether it’s to lose weight or for another reason.
While you might think that those diet soft drinks or those low-calorie cereal bars are better for your health than their regular counterparts, they’re probably not, and there’s usually one or two main reasons – artificial sweeteners and refined carbohydrates – but there may be other reasons as well.
Let’s take a look at some of the favored “diet” foods and discuss why they may not be as healthy as you think.
1.) Diet Soda
An astounding 59% of Americans say they drink diet soda regularly to improve their health or for help with weight loss (Source). Sure, that can of Diet Coke has no sugar or calories, which seems healthy, but that changes when you look closer at the nutrition label.
Most diet soft drinks contain the infamous artificial sweetener known as aspartame, which is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. Aspartame has been getting a bad rap in health circles for years, and for good reason. Sure, it sweetens your drink, but it also doesn’t get through your digestive tract. According to Dorway, “it is broken down into other substances that enter your blood stream. These substances are metabolized further and one of those products is formaldehyde” (Source).
A study done at the University of Texas Health Science Center found that those who drank diet soda on a regular basis “were more likely to gain, not lose, weight” (Source). Another study conducted at Purdue University found that “rats who were fed artificial sweeteners gained more weight than rats fed ‘sugary foods'” (Source).
Water, when drank regularly throughout the day and before your main meals, has been shown to help in weight management. It can even be sweetened or flavored with fruit slices (check out these infused water recipes for some great flavor combos).
And, remember, aspartame isn’t the only potentially harmful artificial sweetener. Learn more about aspartame and other other culprits in this post.
2.) Low-Fat Foods
It’s hard to walk down any aisle at the grocery store without seeing the labels “low-fat” or “fat-free” on a product. Sounds great, right? Sure, but the thing is, these foods are still processed, and that means that when the fat is removed during processing, sugar gets added to flavor the product.
A study from the United Kingdom found that “10% of diet foods contain the same or more calories than the regular stuff, and that 40% had more sugar” (Source). In some cases, it’s even thought that misleading facts on a product’s nutrition label may lead people to overeat, too.
Health.com offers a good example concerning low-fat baked goods:
A packaged low-fat muffin from one popular brand, for instance, packs 280 calories – that’s less than the regular muffin with 370 calories. But the low-fat one has more sugar (36 versus 29 grams), and just like the regular version, contains high fructose corn syrup.
The best advice is to always look at the nutrition labels on any low-fat foods you’re thinking about buying. In most cases, you’ll see high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient, and that can often mean there’s more sugar in the product than you think.
3.) Cereal Bars & Granola
Busy lifestyles can make it hard to get a healthy breakfast in, and as a result, many of us grab whatever we can for a quick breakfast as we’re on the run. Cereal and granola bars probably seem like a healthy choice, but research findings say differently.
Which?, a consumer research group in the UK, conducted a study on 15 different cereal bars, and found the following:
- Kellogg’s Coco Pops Snack Bar contains 42% sugar
- Kellogg’s Rice Krispie Bar contains 36% sugar
- Harvest Chewee (Chocolate Chip Flavor) contains 27% sugar
- Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Fruit Breakfast Bar (Strawberry Flavor) contains 33% sugar
Sadly, your favorite granola, whether in bars or bags, may also be hurting your health. According to Greatist:
Brands like Quaker Oats and Nature Valley typically rank low in the hierarchy of good nutrition. Containing as many as 25 ingredients, 12 grams of sugar and sugar-filled ingredients like chocolate sheath, these babies can be almost as bad as eating a real candy bar.
4.) Processed Gluten-Free Foods
The gluten-free movement has been in full swing for a while now, and it’s only growing in popularity. The NPD Group conducted a survey in 2013, and found that nearly one-third of Americans are trying to reduce the amount of gluten in their everyday diets. As a result, food producers and manufacturers are hopping on the gluten-free bandwagon like never before, and we’re seeing tons of gluten-free food items.
Authority Nutrition had this to say:
The problem is that they [processed gluten-free products] are usually just as bad as their gluten-containing counterparts. These foods are usually made with highly refined carbohydrates, sugar and various other chemicals.
Processed foods, in general, are filled with ingredients that don’t belong in your body. Gluten-free varieties are just as bad. Sugar, artificial sweeteners – it’s all in there. Avoid these foods whenever possible, and give eating whole foods a try. This post from Gluten Dude breaks it all down nicely.
Additional Facts About Processed Foods
If you need a few more reasons to avoid processed foods and beverages, take a look at the facts below from ActiveBeat:
- One glass of processed orange juice contains as much sugar as two oranges
- Processed foods are stripped of nutrients, so you may just be eating a ton of calories and getting no nutrition
- 75% of the salt you eat comes from foods that are processed
- Foods without expiration dates almost always contain chemicals, unnatural additives and preservatives that may harm your body
What other “diet” foods do you avoid? Leave us a comment and let us know.
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