Health & Fitness

Understanding Diet Food

by Staff

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, or just want to eat healthier, chances are you’ve tried your share of “diet foods”. You know, instead of buying full-fat mayonnaise you buy the ‘lite’ version. But what does ‘lite’ really mean? What do any of the adjectives you see on those labels mean? And how do you know if you’re really making a healthy choice?

FDA Definitions for Food Labels
To understand just what it is that you’re eating, you’ll first need to understand that language of all those “diet foods”.

Calorie free:

    • Contains less than 5 calories per serving

Fat free:

    • Contains less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving

Reduced, less, or fewer:

    • Contains 25% less fat than the regular product

Low cholesterol:

    • Contains less than 20mg of cholesterol per serving.

Cholesterol free:

    • Contains less than 2 mg of cholesterol per serving

Extra lean:

    • Contains less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per serving


    • Contains less than 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per serving.

Light (lite):

    • At least one-third fewer calories, or no more than half the fat of the original product

Low fat:

    • Contains 3 grams of fat or less per serving.

Low saturated fat:

    • Contains 1 gram of saturated fat or less per serving.

High fiber:

    • Contains 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.

Good source of fiber:

    • Contains 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving.

Sugar free:

    • Contains less than .5 gram of sugar per serving.

Sodium free:

    • Contains less than 5 mg of sodium and no “salt” in the ingredients.

By now you’ve probably realized that just because a label says that something is ‘lite’ that doesn’t actually mean that it is good for you ‘ just that it has less fat and calories than the original version of the food. If the original was packed with fat and high in calories, chance are the ‘lite’ version will still have more fat and calories than you want to consume. Remember to read the nutritional information on the packaging rather than trusting that if you see words like ‘reduced fat’ on the label you’ll be getting a healthy alternative.

Other Diet Facts to Chew on
Another thing to remember about these diet foods is that they’re processed foods, meaning they usually contain high levels of salt and sugar. While your body does need some salt to function, its requirements are far lower than the amount of sodium found in a diet consisting mainly of processed foods.

Sugar is something that your body doesn’t require at all. These low-fat versions of products are likely to be full of sugar. If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, eating these foods is likely to increase your problem. Even if you’re healthy, any sugar that your body doesn’t convert to energy it will convert to fat and store it away for later. Isn’t that what you’re trying to avoid?

Artificial Sweeteners
Another diet temptation is to eat foods with artificial sweeteners. While in small quantities these can be fine ‘ and provide a good alternative to diabetics who want to indulge a sweet tooth once in a while ‘ they’re not something you want to consume every day. Scientists have been questioning the safety of products like NutraSweet and Splenda for several years, and the effects of daily exposure to these products is still not known. Aside from the potential health risks, some nutritionists claim that artificial sweeteners can actually make you feel hungrier.

Do you drink a diet soda only to start craving another sweet thing minutes after you finish? If you’re craving sugar, and are able to eat it, have a small amount of what you really want, rather than a big portion of something containing the fake stuff. Your sugar craving is more likely to be sated by the real thing, and you will probably have consumed the same amount, or fewer calories.

Best Bets for Long-Term Weight Loss
If you’re looking to lose weight and keep it off, you have to change the way you eat. The best way to keep your body healthy is to feed it fresh, unprocessed foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Processed foods are best left as occasional choices for when you’re on the go, or too busy to cook.

If that’s you all the time, try to consume moderate amounts of these foods. Also, try to add more fresh fruits and veggies to your diet (you can buy them pre-washed and cut, how easy is that?) to keep you snacking on healthy foods, and remember: read the labels carefully. Also, try to keep in mind that the percentages of recommended daily intake on those labels are based on a 2000-calorie diet. The average woman will require more or less calories depending on her body weight and level of activity.

Remember that low fat doesn’t necessarily mean low calorie. If eating the diet version of a certain product is going to make you feel deprived, you might be more likely to binge. If you’re really craving a certain food, try having a small portion of the regular version instead.


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