There are no quick fixes to be found at the grocery store.
While some nutrition plans can help you achieve your weight loss or health goals, they probably don’t include foods with the word “diet” or “low-fat” on the label.
For the casual follower of nutrition trends, this may sound obvious. But data on consumer habits show we’re still eating this stuff, according to Zhaoping Li, the director of the Center of Human Nutrition at the University of California-Los Angeles. Just take one look at the grocery aisle and you’ll see beloved brands like Halo Top and Arctic Zero ice cream, for example, appearing in droves.
As dreamy as their calorie or fat contents sound, there’s a catch. Many of these products are still highly processed and can encourage overeating. This is hardly healthy, but the labels subtly suggest otherwise. And it pays off for retailers: Research shows that shoppers still view low-fat markers as good for you, even though they do not guarantee nutritional quality.
“Low-fat does not equal healthy,” Li told HuffPost. “Low-fat, high-carb [diets] may not decrease your overall calorie intake nor improve your diet quality compared to high-fat foods.”
Experts like Li agree for the most part that products marketed to being low-fat or diet foods aren’t doing anyone any favors. Here are just a few specific reasons why we should ditch them for good:
‘Diet’ products may actually make you gain weight.
A recent study published from the University of Georgia found that diet products that are stripped of fat and include added sugar can lead to unwanted weight gain. These foods may also damage the liver, according to the study’s authors.
It’s important to note that this experiment was only conducted in rats, so more research needs to be done before a definitive conclusion can be made on how it affects humans. And plenty of other studies have reached similar conclusions: Swapping fat for sugar, like in that beloved fat-free ice cream or even in cereal, is only having a detrimental impact on weight.
This doesn’t just apply to food: Diet beverages can also have a poor effect on health. One study even found that diet soda drinkers have larger waistlines and more likely to have type 2 diabetes and risks associated with heart disease than people who didn’t drink diet soda at all.
‘Low-fat’ foods and drinks won’t help your heart.
Products that feature low-fat labels in flashy text aren’t really doing anything for your ticker, either. This is especially true for dairy: The message that you need to buy milk that’s low in fat is misleading, according to Robert Bobrow, an associate professor of clinical family medicine at Stony Brook University.
As Bobrow points out, a 2013 Harvard study even found that swapping whole milk for reduced fat “lacks an evidence basis for weight management or cardiovascular disease prevention.” The switch could even be detrimental to health if stuff like sugar are substituted for fat.
“If you happen to like the taste of defatted milk, that’s one thing,” Bobrow wrote in a HuffPost contributors piece. “But it won’t help you lose weight or render you heart-healthy.”
And fat isn’t exactly something to avoid. Studies show diets rich in high and healthy fats (hello, avocados!) may raise levels of the the “good” cholesterol in your body, which helps with artery blockage. They also may help with other risks associated with heart disease.
And diet food may reinforce dysfunctional ideas about eating.
Food is not the enemy. You can and should enjoy it.
Studies show that the timeless advice to consume everything in moderation may not be so useful after all, but there are workarounds: Some research suggests that a technique called intuitive eating can help. Instead of abiding by what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, this habit relies on consuming what you want based on listening to your hunger and satisfaction cues. Those who followed this method had lower body weights, according to a 2016 study.
Sadly, there are no shortcuts for optimal well-being. When it comes to weight loss, there’s no better way than the old fashioned way: Healthy whole foods and exercise.