Weight loss is a $61 billion market, and when people are spending that much money, you’d better believe that there are companies willing to do or say anything to get a piece.
“Diet” foods are an example of this and are pushed in mainstream weight loss advice as a healthy, easy way to lose weight. Many people believe that weight loss even requires the consumption of diet foods.
Well, I have good news: you don’t have to eat diet foods to lose weight. All you have to do is ensure your metabolism is healthy and burn more energy than you consume, and you will lose weight. If you really want to do it right, you will include resistance training in your routine, like weightlifting, to preserve (or even build) muscle and thus maximizing fat loss.
So, in this article, I want to discuss 5 popular diet foods that you should stay away from whether you’re trying to lose weight or not, and what you should choose instead.
Table of Contents
You can find more than 300 species of agave plants growing in Mexico, the southern United States, and northern areas of South America. The nectar extracted from the core of this plant has long been used for medicinal and intoxication purposes (you get tequila when you ferment it), and more recently, as a natural sweetener.
Most of the agave syrup you find in stores comes from the “blue agave” species of plant, and although it’s marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, it’s not.
You see, both sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup are comprised of about 50% glucose and 50% fructose, whereas agave nectar can be anywhere from 55% to as high as 90% fructose. Why does this matter?
Well, more and more research is emerging that increasing fructose intake increases the risk of developing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. (And in case you’re wondering, the fructose found naturally in fruit is fine, but the fructose artificially added to foods to sweeten them is not.)
Many people perceive fruit juice to be healthy because they assume it comes from fruit. Well, in many cases it’s little more than flavored sugar water. No fruit, just chemicals that taste like it.
Even if you choose 100% fruit juice, it’s still not a great choice of beverage for a few reasons:
1. Drinking calories never a good idea when you’re trying to lose weight.
Weight loss requires that you restrict your calories, and if you want to avoid hunger issues, you need to get as much satiation from those calories as possible. And drinking calories simply doesn’t make you feel full.
Instead, you want to be eating plenty of protein, low-gyclemic carbohydrates, and fibrous foods, all of which keep you satiated and less likely to overeat.
2. The natural sugars found in fruit are different than those found in the juice.
This is because the sugars in whole fruit are bound to the fibrous flesh, which fills you up and slows down their absorption in the body. The bottom line is the sugars in fruit don’t pose a problem unless you’re eating ridiculous amounts of fruit every day.
Fruit juice is different, though–it allows you to consume much larger quantities of sugar, and it lacks the fibrous matter to slow down the absorption. For example, one cup of orange juice contains the sugar content of about two whole oranges, or a can of Coke, with none of the fiber mass.
So, enjoy a few servings of fruit every day, but stay away from fruit juice.
An easy way for many people to reduce caloric intake is to simply switch from sugar-sweetened beverages to artificially sweetened ones, like diet soda. While this is an effective way to reduce the amount of sugar and calories one eats, it can cause other problems.
The last thing we need when we’re dieting to lose weight is an appetite stimulant, so leave the diet soda out. Instead, stick to water and if you have a sweet tooth, indulge it my favorite choice: naturally sweetened green tea.
Gluten-free dieting is hugely popular these days and big food manufacturers have jumped all over it, bringing all kinds of crappy gluten-free products to the marketplace.
Well, remember that cheap gluten-free muffins, breads, cereals, and other highly processed, low-quality carbohydrates are no better than their gluten-containing counterparts.
All are devoid of nutrition and high on the glycemic index, which can contribute to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as increase the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancers. Furthermore, research has shown that high-glycemic carbohydrates can be less filling than lower-glycemic options, which increases the likelihood of overeating.
If you’d like to reduce your gluten intake, stick to naturally gluten-free foods like meats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, not processed gluten-free junk sitting on the supermarket shelves.
While the anti-fat crusade has died down and given way to the now-trendy anti-carb hysteria, people continue to buy margarine and other butter alternatives.
Well, while butter is healthy, margarine isn’t. There are two main problems with margarine:
1. Many margarine products still contain trans fats.
Trans fat is a highly processed form of unsaturated fat that has been associated with increased risk for a whole host of health problems, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, depression, and more.
2. All margarine products contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.
An omega-6 fatty acid is a type of fat molecule that is found in quite a few foods prevalent in Western diets such as poultry, eggs, vegetable oils, whole-grain breads, and nuts.
While omega-6 fatty acids aren’t inherently harmful, if you eat too much of them and too little omega-3 fatty acids (which are comparatively scarce in the common Western diet), the risk of developing many types of disease (cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, depression, and more) is dramatically increased.
The bottom line is us Westerners are already generally eating too much omega-6 fats and too little omega-3 fats, so throwing margarine into the mix will only make the problem worse.
Instead of turning to margarine or other similar products, you’re much better off sticking with the real deal and just using it sparingly, as a part of a proper meal plan.
What do you think about these diet foods? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- AP, S. (2006). Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & Pharmacotherapie, 60(9), 502–507. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.BIOPHA.2006.07.080
- AP, S. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & Pharmacotherapie, 56(8), 365–379. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0753-3322(02)00253-6
- Zhang, J., Hupfeld, C. J., Taylor, S. S., Olefsky, J. M., & Tsien, R. Y. (2005). Insulin disrupts β-adrenergic signalling to protein kinase A in adipocytes. Nature 2005 437:7058, 437(7058), 569–573. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04140
- AO, O., & MA, P. (2006). Trans fatty acids, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Nutrition Reviews, 64(8), 364–372. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1753-4887.2006.TB00221.X
- Sánchez-Villegas, A., Verberne, L., Irala, J. De, Ruíz-Canela, M., Toledo, E., Serra-Majem, L., & Martínez-González, M. A. (2011). Dietary Fat Intake and the Risk of Depression: The SUN Project. PLOS ONE, 6(1), e16268. https://doi.org/10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0016268
- V, C., AC, T., M, R., E, G., V, M., MC, B.-R., V, J., GM, L., & F, C.-C. (2008). Association between serum trans-monounsaturated fatty acids and breast cancer risk in the E3N-EPIC Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 167(11), 1312–1320. https://doi.org/10.1093/AJE/KWN069
- MC, M., DA, E., JL, B., CC, T., DA, B., N, A., J, S., & RS, W. (2003). Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology, 60(2), 194–200. https://doi.org/10.1001/ARCHNEUR.60.2.194
- FB, H., MJ, S., JE, M., E, R., GA, C., BA, R., CH, H., & WC, W. (1997). Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. The New England Journal of Medicine, 337(21), 1491–1499. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199711203372102
- FR, B., AE, J.-G., N, J., & J, S. (2007). Glycaemic response to foods: impact on satiety and long-term weight regulation. Appetite, 49(3), 535–553. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.APPET.2007.04.006
- A, E., JM, W., A, M., K, S., DJ, J., & CW, K. (2009). The glycemic index: physiological significance. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28 Suppl, 439S-445S. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2009.10718109
- Yang, Q. (2010). Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 83(2), 101. /pmc/articles/PMC2892765/
- JH, L., SJ, F., & NW, R. (1997). The effect of sucrose- and aspartame-sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice of female, moderately restrained eaters. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders : Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 21(1), 37–42. https://doi.org/10.1038/SJ.IJO.0800360
- DF, T., G, T.-M., E, L., J, S., K, E., K, P., M, D., X, W., & B, P. (2012). Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95(3), 555–563. https://doi.org/10.3945/AJCN.111.026278
- GA, B. (2013). Energy and fructose from beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup pose a health risk for some people. Advances in Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 4(2), 220–225. https://doi.org/10.3945/AN.112.002816
- KL, S., JM, S., & PJ, H. (2013). Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: results from the recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Current Opinion in Lipidology, 24(3), 198–206. https://doi.org/10.1097/MOL.0B013E3283613BCA