It seems that food and beverage manufacturers are capitalizing on our culture’s obsession with weight by putting their products on a “diet!” Just walk down any grocery store aisle and you’ll find many of your favorite foods in “light,” “low-fat,” or “sugar-free” varieties.
We’re all looking to cut calories but are these emaciated varieties of your favorite foods sacrificing health for fewer calories? You bet.
What “Light” Really Means
In this case, “light” simply means less juice and more chemical ingredients. Take a look.
Welch’s Light Grape Juice Cocktail
Serving size: 8 oz., 70 calories, 0g fat, 80mg sodium, 17g sugars to 40 percent juice
Ingredients: Filtered Water, Grape From Concentrate (filtered water, Grape Juice Concentrate), Grape Juice, Calcium Gluconate, Malic Acid, Natural Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Grape Skin Extract, Ascorbic Acid), Calcium Lactate, Sucralose (Splenda), Acesulfame Potassium. No artificial flavors or colors added.
- Lesson learned: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Welch’s Light Grape Juice Cocktail is advertised as having half the calories. When our food sleuths analyzed the ingredients they found that the drink has fewer calories, but only because the nutrition and flavor were replaced with water, artificial sweeteners; the light version contains 60 percent less juice.
- Reality Check: Manufacturers usually compensate for the lack of calories in “light” juices by replacing much of the juice with water and then adding chemicals to boost the flavor.
- Best Bet: Stick with Welch’s 100 percent Grape Juice version to get all the benefits in taste and nutrition. For those looking to cut calories, simply cut the serving in half (from 8 ounces to 4) and add a few ounces of water.
What “Low Fat” Really Means
In this case, “low fat” means more added sugar and fillers, and less taste. Take a look.
Chips Ahoy Reduced Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Serving Size: 32g, 140 cals, total fat 5g (sat. fat 2g), sodium 150mg, sugar 11g, protein 2g
Ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Sugar, Semisweet Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin – An Emulsifier), Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Ammonium Phosphate), Fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Whey (From Milk), Natural And Artificial Flavor, Caramel Color.
- Lesson Learned: The reduced-fat version actually has two extra sugar ingredients and one extra filler added to help compensate for the lower fat. Plus, there’s only a 20-calorie savings, three less grams of fat—but there is a 40 milligram boost in sodium!
- Reality check: It’s always a smart move to decrease your fat intake. However, studies show you tend to eat more to satisfy your craving. This means you usually end up taking in MORE CALORIES. And that, defeats the purpose of choosing a “reduced-fat” cookie in the first place.
- Best Bet: If there’s not much of a calorie difference with the reduced-fat version, you’re probably better off eating the full-fat cookie that you were craving in the first place. Just be sure to limit your intake to one per customer! Note: We recommend cookie brands that don’t contain trans fats and high fructose corn syrup.
What Sugar-Free Really Means
In this case, “sugar-free” simply means a lot of added artificial sweeteners and only a few less calories. Take a look.
Breyers Vanilla No Sugar Added
Serving Size: 1/2 cup, 80 calories, 4g fat (2.5 sat fat), 4g sugar, 4g sugar alcohols, 2g protein
Ingredients: Milk, skim milk, cream, polydextrose, maltodextrin, sorbitol, whey, glycerine, lactitol, mono and diglycerides, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, natural flavor, guar gum, tara gum, xanthan gum, carob bean gum, sucralose (splenda® brand), acesulfame potassium, annatto, vitamin a palmitate.
- Lesson Learned: When food manufacturers remove the sugar they have to replace it with something to make up for the loss of sweetness. This Breyers sugar-free version has 16 additional additives compared to the regular version, for the same half-cup serving. Six of the 16 additives are artificial sweeteners! All of this only equals a savings of 60 calories and 3 grams fat.
- Reality Check: Subjecting your body to all these artificial additives to save a few measly calories is much riskier than enjoying a little bit of real sugar. Plus, the original-recipe versions just taste better.
- Best Bet: If you’re craving ice cream, go for a really good variety that uses all-natural, real ingredients like milk, cream, and sugar. Limit your portions and you can enjoy every creamy bite!
With all the “diet” products lining the grocery store shelves these days it’s important to understand that these chemically-charged foods still contain fat and calories. Plus, they contain crazy amounts of artificial sweeteners and other cheap additives used to add texture and to boost flavor. Combined, this can be a recipe for disaster for your health and your waistline.
If you’re trying to be healthier or to lose a few unwanted pounds, we recommend you fill up on plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. And then, if you’re craving something sweet go for the really good brands that use all-natural, real ingredients. Limit your portions and enjoy every bite in moderation!