Skip to content

The Dark Side of "Lite" Foods

foot tapping scaleIn a society steeped in diet culture, it is understandable that from a young age, we have been bombarded with messages and advertising, marketing the latest diet fad. Some of these diet terms include “sugar free”, “fat free”, “low fat”, “skinny”, and “lite”. All of these terms actually have strict classifications and definitions that must be adhered to in order to carry these terms on packaging. For example, per FDA standards, “lite” indicates “a food has one third fewer calories or 50% less fat, or 50% less sodium than a comparable product”.

These buzz words often sound very enticing in a health-seeking world, but are they beneficial at all? Unfortunately, in many cases, they can cause more harm than good. Where it may seem that a food will offer health benefits, to cut down on cost and improve taste, there will often be a caveat, often in the form of an additional ingredient to make up the difference.

What can this look like? It may seem like an oxymoron, but take fat-free half and half. The creaminess and thickness enjoyed in naturally occurring dairy products comes from its fat content. Therefore, even when the fat is removed from half and half, consumers are still looking for that thicker consistency. To make up this difference, dairy companies add things like corn syrup to the milk to give it a thicker texture. So, by opting out of the fat content, you are often opting in to something worse.

Let’s take a look at some other substitutions commonly found in diet products.

Sugar Free: While these products contain no traditional sugar, they contain artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, which can disrupt the gut microbiome, cause stomach upset, and actually lead to weight gain and insulin resistance in the long term.

Fat Free/ Low Fat: These products, as described above, will usually have a higher sugar content to make up for the loss of fat.

“Skinny”/ “Lite/Light”: This usually means one or both of the terms above. The food item is usually sugar free or fat free or reduced fat. A particular problem with this term is that it utilizes the buzz word “skinny”, thereby convincing consumers to purchase it in the hopes of weight loss. That, however, is far from the truth. Foods that have key ingredients removed often lead to lesser feelings of satisfaction, leading to snacking later on or even binge eating since the satisfaction factor was not met after eating the original food. Words like “Lite” or “Light” are often phonetically pleasing to the ears, leading consumers to unconsciously view those foods as favorable or more desirable.

“Gluten Free”: This is a new trend that is cropping up in today’s diet conscious world. For those with gluten intolerances or celiac disease, gluten may be necessary to avoid or limit. However, for those who do not have an adverse reaction to gluten, gluten free products are no healthier than gluten-containing products. If anything, gluten free products often swap the wheat out for things like corn or rice. Corn especially is one of the most genetically modified and abnormally produced crops and is highly inflammatory. To keep the appearance of a normal wheat product, many gluten-free bread substitutes employ the use of binders and thickeners to keep their shape, none of which are beneficial or serve any nutritional purpose.

So, what should you do? The safest option is to eat minimally processed foods wherever possible. An apple at the store will never have these labels on it. Foods that are processed or packaged are a hot spot for food marketers to place false health claims on their products. By keeping to a diet of whole foods that you cook yourself, all of these labels can usually be avoided.

Still not sure what foods are best for you? Give us a call at (302) 454-1200 and schedule with our nutritionist, Sarah, today!

Add Your Comment (Get a Gravatar)

Your Name


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.