Do Diet Foods Make You Fat?

Despite all the low-fat and sugar foods that line the supermarket shelves, we are unhealthier than ever before. What going on here? Do diet foods make you fat?

The supermarkets are full of foods that claim to be wholesome and nutritious in addition to helping us maintain a thriving lifestyle and healthy weight.

But what if the very things we thought would help us to be healthier are actually making us fatter and more debilitated? Do diet foods make you fat?

Too Much Of A Good Food

Low fat is usually touted to be a healthy way to lose weight, get healthy and stay healthy.  Unfortunately, many too many of us associate the words “Low Fat” with “Low Calorie”, which makes people underestimate the number of calories they consume when eating low-fat food.

Studies show the Average Joe feels less guilty when eating these foods, which allows us to justify eating bigger portions.

As we’ve talked about in the past, fat is what makes food taste good.  When fat is unnaturally removed from a food, sugar is added to make it taste better so those who are seeking out low-fat foods are often introducing extra sugar to their diet. And it’s a fact that healthy fat is better for you than any kind of sugar.

Studies also suggest that if you consume something sweet your appetite increases, whether the food/drink is artificially sweetened or not.

So–low fat?  Fuggedaboutit!

I Feel So Empty

Healthy fat and protein have advantages over refined carbohydrates in making you feel satiated and full for longer so why do so many people go for empty calories diet foods such as granola bars and rice cakes?

Why? Because we know it’s healthy.

Or maybe we’re being misled.

Let’s take a box of yogurt raisins, for example.  Raisins are good, right?  And yogurt?  Also good, right? And it’s such a teeny-tiny box.  How much harm can it do?

If we cruise over to the website for one popular brand, you’ll notice they’re quick to point out that this product is made from whole non-GMO fruit.  Interestingly enough, grapes are a berry.  First words outta their mouths and it’s a deception.

They go on about this being a “healthy” on-the-go snack and that raisins contribute to our daily intake of fiber, vitamins, and essential minerals.  There’s talk of antioxidant powerhouses, natural sugars and how this little cardboard box of goodness can help us reach our recommended daily servings of fruit.

Sounds good, right?  How can we possibly go wrong?

Take a closer look.   See that “+” symbol?  Let’s just click on that to see what they’re legally required to tell us while hoping we won’t bother to look.

Looks like there are 120 calories (45 of them from the raisins), 20% of your recommended intake of saturated fat (none of it from the raisins) and 18 grams of sugar (about half of it from the raisins).

There’s about ½ an ounce of raisins in each 1-ounce box of “yogurt” covered raisins.  That means you’d have to eat 8 boxes of raisins to equal one serving of fruit. 960 calories, 160% of your daily allotment of saturated fat and more than quadruple the recommended intake of sugar.  Still sound like a healthy snack?

What about all that fiber?  The vitamins and essential minerals?  Antioxidants? All less than 5% of your daily recommended intake.

Now take a look at the ingredients: Well, raisins.  We knew that.  But, what’s this? Yogurt-flavored coating?  Made from sugar, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, nonfat milk powder, yogurt powder (cultured whey and nonfat milk), whey powder, artificial color (titanium dioxide), soy lecithin– an emulsifier, vanilla, tapioca dextrin and confectioners glaze?  That doesn’t sound like yogurt to me.  I think a more apt description would be “candy-coated raisins”.

Sooo….

If you want yogurt covered raisins, why not stir some raisins into plain greek yogurt?  Add a drop of honey and vanilla to sweeten the pot.

One For The Road

What can be healthier than grabbing one of those ultra-high-calorie, sugar-packed, fat-inducing smoothies out of the cooler at your favorite convenience store?  Wait…what?  Aren’t smoothies healthy?  Many times the answer is no.

When you make a smoothie at home or buy one at your local hipster hub, chances are it’s made from whole foods, one of which is probably whole fruits or berries.  Commercial smoothies tend to be made from fruit juice.  Why is this important?

Let’s take a look at this commercial smoothie.

By their own account, this drink is made from the juice of 3½ apples, 1 banana, 27 blueberries and 3 blackberries.  It’s been non-GMO verified, has no preservatives and no added sugar. It’s been “boosted” (read: artificially introduced) with 6 vitamins and minerals and has 2 grams of fiber. That’s good, right?

Well, it contains more than 20% of your daily calories while only providing 12% of your daily fiber intake.  It also has 55 grams of sugar.  That’s more than double the recommended intake of daily sugar, according to the WHO.

It’s important to remember that when we eat whole fruit, we consume the naturally occurring sugar along with the naturally occurring fiber, which slows the rate at which our bodies take in the sugar.   When we remove the fiber and just consume the juice, it crashes into our bodies very quickly.  As a matter of fact, our bodies will react to this naturally occurring sugar in exactly the same way as manufactured, or added, sugar.

What’s In Your Sushi?

Sushi is generally considered to be healthy, nutritious and low calorie. It starts with rice and nori rolled around fish or vegetables but often there’s more than meets the eye.

Rainbow sushi is the T Rex of sushi:  it’s sushi rolled in additional fish.  While the fish provides high-quality protein as well as healthy fats, at 475 calories and 16 grams of fat it’s a bit too much of a good thing!

Shrimp tempura roll is another iffy choice.  It weighs in at over 500 calories and 21 grams of fat from fried shrimp.

See how easy it is to pack in some extra calories and unhealthy fats when we’re not paying attention?

If you want to keep it healthy, choose simple avocado and tuna rolls that come in at under 200 calories per serving (one roll or 6 pieces) with less than 5 grams of healthy fat.  California, salmon and spicy tuna are also good choices with less than 300 calories and about 10 grams of healthy fat.

Oh, and take it easy on the sauces.

The Bottom Line

I’m not asking you to never eat another convenience food as long as you live.  We all get tempted by what we see on the menu, at the corner store or in our kids’ Halloween pumpkins.  I’m not telling you to never treat yourself or never get unexpectedly hungry when you’re away from home (and all that healthy food).

All I’m asking is that you give it some thought, read the label, take a minute to find out what you’re actually putting in your body.  And always remember this:  If the packaging has to explain why it’s healthy…it’s probably not.

Stay well.

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Evil Foods That Pretend to be Healthy

Faker. Pretender. Impostor. Fraud. There’s nothing I hate more than foods that pretend to be healthy and processed foods are the worst. They spend all their time insisting that they’re Tasty! Nutritious! Real! All Natural! Fun! Cool! Refreshing!

Lies. All lies.

Who remembers this ad?

According to the ingredient label, the first ingredient on Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli label is tomato. Which is a fruit. Lie #1.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

But even if you give them a point for having something nutritious as the first ingredient, consider this: Your average Plain Jane, nondescript red tomato has plenty of nutritional value including impressive amounts of vitamins C, K, B, A and more minerals than you can shake a stick at but, somehow, according (again) to their own claims, Chef Boyardee seems to have sucked all that nutrition right out of their product while adding a good dollop of fat and sodium.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. You can dress ‘em up but you can’t take ‘em out.

The Untold Truth: What Not To Eat 

We’ve all got ‘em. Our processed food vices. It could be cheese puffs or a certain brand of frozen pizza. Mine are Big Macs and Devil Dogs (although not usually at the same time).

What Not To Eat 
What Not To Eat

We know it’s no good so we break up. Sometimes we can stay away for months but once we slip, it seems as though eating more of it is all we can think about. Ever wonder why?

Because it’s been specifically designed to be addicting.

Processed foods
Processed foods

I know we’ve talked about this before but it bears repeating. Processed foods are created with a specific combination of fat and carbs that are meant to keep you coming back for more. I went over this dastardly behavior in more detail here if you want to take a look.

Even if you consider yourself to have a non-addictive personality, there are other things to consider when cruising your local grocery, convenience store or coffee shop. I won’t spoil the surprise but you should read on for some eye-opening information!

Relationships: What’s In Your Freezer?

What’s In Your Freezer
What’s In Your Freezer

The frozen food aisle is like a beacon of light in a dark and dreary world. It’s stuffed to the gills with pretty packages depicting delicious food arranged beautifully on fine china dishes. It promises tasty foods that are quick and easy to prepare. The labels portray a meal that’s hearty, healthy, organic, natural, vitamin-rich, fiber-filled, vegan, low fat, low carb and glycemicly correct. (You’re right. I did just make that up ;-)) They vow to help you be thinner, fuller, healthier, fitter, stronger, more energetic and just plain cool.

What these fiends are actually doing is trying to distract you from the real truth. What these meals really are is jam-packed with food additives.

Polysorbate 80
Polysorbate 80

Polysorbate 80 is a synthetic compound made from the dehydrated compounds found in sugar alcohols. It’s used to bulk up foods, keep frozen sauces smooth and as a binding agent in ice cream.

This additive actually alters microbes in the gut, creating an environment favorable for the development of cancer.

Carboxymethylcellulose
Carboxymethylcellulose

What else is in your ice cream? Carboxymethylcellulose, also known as cellulose gum or CMC is used as a thickener. Consuming large amounts may result in digestive system discomforts such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are used to prevent food oxidation which extends the shelf life of frozen food.

BHT and BHA are chemical compounds made out of a type of acid called carbolic acid. This acid is known to create acid burns if handled in large amounts. It’s been linked to cancer risk, skin irritations, and behavioral issues in children.

And, honestly, do you really want to eat something that’s been butylated?

Potassium Bromate
Potassium Bromate

Potassium Bromate is a lab-made additive, made through an electrolytic process similar to fusing metals together. It gives bread a thicker, stronger texture, a higher rise and a pleasing white color.

Handling this additive in its powdered form (by employees at the baking company) can cause serious side effects. It can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, damage your kidneys and Is considered to be a carcinogen. It can also negatively affect the nervous system resulting in impaired thinking and personality changes. There is some evidence that some of these side effects are also possible from the consumption of products baked with chemicals.

Banned!
Banned!

It’s been banned as a food additive in the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and the European Union. In California, all foods containing Potassium Bromate must bear a warning label.

But enough of that. How’s the sandwich?

Propyl Gallate is a food preservative that prevents oxygen molecules from mixing with the oil in frozen foods. It’s called an “ester,” a chemical compound that’s derived from an acid.

Propyl Gallate
Propyl Gallate

It has been shown to increase the risk of tumors and is a possible carcinogen. Studies also show that it could interact and alter hormones.

Sodium Nitrite is a chemical ion created by (you guessed it!) combining salt with nitrites and is used to preserve foods such as beef jerky, hot dogs, lunch meat, salami, and smoked fish.

Sodium Nitrite
Sodium Nitrite

It may damage your blood vessels and affect the way your body uses sugar, making you more likely to develop diabetes. It also can interfere with thyroid activity, contributing to hypothyroidism.

Just talking about this is making me hungry. Could someone please pass the chemicals?

Running On Empty: Fuel Free Foods

Running On Empty
Running On Empty

We’re all guilty of this one. We just like what we like, right? And everyone knows that the barista in the village makes the best coffee ever, even if it is $5 and a 20-minute wait. But is it really that great? Or is it just a habit, something we grab because it’s what we always grab?

Let’s shake things up a bit. I’ve taken 3 things (what I consider “biggies”) and tried to come up with some alternatives. See what you think:

Fancy Coffee Drinks

Feeling Fancy!
Feeling Fancy!

 

Brew up your own creation:

  • Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon pure vanilla (or cinnamon, cardamom, unsweetened cocoa powder, any spice that tickles your fancy) to coffee grounds before brewing or add a drop or sprinkle to brewed coffee.
  • Indulge in some heavy cream (or almond milk, coconut cream) and a spoonful of sugar (or honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar).
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, finish it off by stirring in some dark chocolate or date paste*.

We’ve still got some empty calories going on here, but far less than what you’ll be taking in from your local Fancy-Pants coffee shop. And you’ll be saving a ton of money!

Soda
Soda

Soda

Substitute:

  • Plain water
  • Infuse water by slicing or muddling one or more of the following into your water bottle:
    • Lemon
    • Lime
    • Cucumber
    • Strawberries
    • Raspberries
    • Rosemary
    • Water!
      Water!

      Apricot

    • Mint
    • Pineapple
    • Kiwi
    • Grapefruit
  • Low sodium V8 juice
  • Sparkling water
  • Fruit juice (in moderation)
  • Lemonade
    • Dissolve 2 ½ tablespoon sugar in ¼ cup hot water. Stir in 2 ½ tablespoons lemon juice. Pour into glass filled with ice and top off with ¾ cup cold water or sparkling water. Adjust sugar and lemon juice to taste.

Granola bars, breakfast bars, nutrition bars, fruit/nut bars and whatever else they’re called

Nuts For Almonds!
Nuts For Almonds!

Swap these out for some good, old-fashioned trail mix. Make up a batch and prepackage it in containers so it’s ready to go! Here are a few things you can use (in any combination whatsoever!):

 

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried Fruit
  • Dried berries
  • Popcorn
  • Coconut Flakes
  • Cacao beans/fruit
  • Granola
  • Roasted coffee/espresso beans
  • Dark chocolate
  • Dried peas
  • Dried or candied ginger
  • Candied orange peel
  • Spices
    • Cayenne Pepper
    • Salt
    • Wasabi powder
    • Garlic Powder
    • Onion Powder
    • Curry Powder
    • Cumin
    • Chili Powder
    • Cinnamon
    • Nutmeg
I Love Lemons
I Love Lemons

Try these on for size and then stretch your imagination out a bit further to come up with your ideas. Then, of course, you should share in the comments below so we all can use them!

I Want To Diet, But then I Get Hungry: The Skinny On Fat-Free Foods

You know all those low-fat items you see on the shelves? Low-fat cereals, peanut butter, yogurts, granola bars. What can be better than taking healthy, nutritious food and making it low fat or even fat-free? It certainly sounds like a win-win, right?

Fat-Free Foods
Fat-Free Foods

Well…no.

Fats are what make foods taste good so if you take out that fat, you end up with an unpalatable pile of yuck. The solution, the food manufacturers discovered, is to simply load these foods up with sugar and lots of it.

The same holds true for low sugar or sugar-free foods. When they lower the sugar, they simply up the fat. Because what’s the point of manufacturing food that no one wants to eat?

Fat-Free
Fat-Free

If you’re feeling doubtful, simply read some labels. Take a look at the ingredients and nutritional labels of low-fat peanut butter and regular peanut butter. A low-fat muffin vs. a regular “fat” muffin vs. a sugar-free muffin. The deception will begin to become clear.

But wait, you cry! Aspartame is sugar-free AND fat-free!

Yes. Yes, it is.

Aspartame is the world’s most popular artificial sweetener. It is also marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin and AminoSweet. It’s been widely rumored to cause cancer, seizures, blindness, headaches, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Aspartame
Aspartame

I don’t think the above claims have been proven (feel free to let me know if I’m wrong!) but I think we can say one thing for sure:

It’s been around since 1965 and we’re not getting any thinner so I think we can debunk the weight loss claim. Oh, and it’s a chemical, not a natural food. Let’s just skip it altogether, shall we?

That’s A Wrap!

What strategies have you come up with to trade in your junk food habits? Let us know in the comments below.

Now that you’re armed with the facts, let’s get out there and shake things up!

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

*Soak dates in water for an hour, then combine the dates with a couple of tablespoons of water in a blender. In addition to the sweet flavor of fruit, you’ll get some extra fiber, iron, magnesium, and calcium in your cup!

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