In the past decade, we have seen more and more "diet foods" creep up on the shelves of our supermarkets. Foods are touted as being low in fat, calories and sugar. But, will this actually help us lose weight? This article discusses the science behind diet food, and answers the question--will diet foods actually help you lose weight?
What's in Diet Foods?
"Diet" foods is a broad term--it is easier to divide foods based on if they are low in fat, calories or sugar. And, while there is quite a variety in the terms used in regards to diet food, there is also a variety of different food products that are used in diet foods. Let's start with foods that are low in sugar. When companies remove the sugar from a product, they typically mimic the flavor of the original product by adding fat. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, which each contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram--more than twice that of carbohydrates and protein! Obviously, adding more fat to your food won't help you lose weight.
On the other hand, foods that are low in fat typically provide more added sodium. While sodium doesn't necessarily contribute any extra calories, it can result in water retention and a feeling of bloat. Aside from these cosmetic concerns, it is important to understand that large amounts of salt consumption can lead to arterial and cardiovascular damage, and can even cause heart attacks or death.
Finally, foods that are touted as being low in calories typically have some combination of added sugar and salt. Like salt, sugar in and of itself does not contribute to any extra calories, however, most added sugar is sucrose, which is a simple carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are quick digesting, and therefore leave the stomach soon after consumption. Unlike complex carbohydrates, which are slow digesting and therefore take a long time to leave the stomach and enter the digestive tract, simple carbohydrates lead to a sugar crash. This can result in feelings of dizziness, shakiness and hunger.
What Diet Foods Should You Eat
The best foods you can eat if you are on a diet are fruits, vegetables and whole grains. While these foods are typically not advertised as being intended as "diet food," they make great choices for individuals who are trying to lose weight. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain fiber, which like complex carbohydrates, is slow digesting and therefore stays in the stomach for a long period of time. This helps to keep you feeling fuller, longer, and prevents overeating at future meals. Recent research has found that the skin of some fruit can contain as much fiber as the actual fruit itself--so ditch the paring knife and eat the fruit whole!
While traditional diet foods, such as those advertised as being low in fat, calories or sugar, may not be effective in your weight loss goals, there is another option. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain many of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs--and the fiber found within these foods can help you lose weight.