Low-calorie foods thrive: cold cuts, milk, cheese, granola bars, sodas, salty snacks — there are “light” types of all of these and many more. We turn to “light” products because we want to eat healthy and hope they help us lose weight. We automatically associate the words like “sugar-free”, “low-fat” or “wellness” with health and well-being. But do these “low calorie” products really deliver what they promise?
What are “light” foods?
Wherever you say “light,” it means that there is less of something: for example, less fat, less sugar, or no sugar. “Light” products should contain at least 30% fewer calories than standard products. There are a lot of the different terms for “light” products, but each term has its own meaning. Here is a list of the most common terms and also their definitions:
- Fat Free: Not more than 0.5g of total fat for a given size*
- Zero Calories: Less than 5 calories for a given size
- 100% Fat Free: Should contain 3 grams or less of total fat for a given size. The “100% fat-free” claim can only be made for foods that meet the “fat-free” criteria and also contain less than 0.5g of fat per 100g and no added fat.
- Cholesterol-free: Less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol for a given size and 2 grams or less of saturated fat for a given size
- Saturated Fat Free: No more than 0.5g of saturated fat per serving size, and no more than 0.5g of trans fatty acids
- Low Fat: 3 grams or less of the total fat per serving size
- Low-calorie: 40 calories or less for a given size (excluding sugar substitutes)
- Low cholesterol: Up to 20 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat for a given size
- Low saturated fat: 1 gram or less of the saturated fat per serving size and no more than 15% of calories from saturated fat
- Serving size represents the amount of food typically consumed for each eating occasion.
How does “light” affect the taste?
Fats are an important flavor carrier because they absorb and preserve flavors. Substances such as glutamate, glycine, chlorides, lactate, and yeast extract, or flavorings are often used to make up for the lack of taste in low-fat products. Many of these substances can cause headaches, diarrhea, urination or even allergic reactions.
Are light or low-calorie foods unhealthy?
More research is needed in order to clearly determine if and how “light” foods affect our health. However, a longitudinal study in Europe shows that even two glasses of sweet soda a day can be harmful to your health. Interestingly, there is no difference between sweetening drinks with sugar or artificial sweeteners. There are also studies showing that artificial sweeteners can be harmful to digestive health.
Switching to artificially sweetened beverages isn’t the right choice for diabetics either, as regular consumption of diet sodas can be an independent risk factor for diabetes. The healthiest and safest option is to drink unsweetened water or tea.
Beware of diet foods
Light or low-calorie foods don’t deliver what they promise! Just because it’s low in calories, doesn’t make it healthy; It may contain many alternatives. As far as weight loss is concerned, long-term studies have shown that highly processed diet foods contribute little, or no, to weight loss. “Light” is written on the label. A better strategy is to eat less of the standard product, which leads to weight loss.
Takeaway: Are low-calorie foods healthy or harmful?
There is no clear evidence to suggest how healthy or unhealthy light or low-calorie foods are. The truth is that they do not have any proven benefits for our health. They are not necessarily the most effective option for weight loss. If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, the best route is to stick to natural, unprocessed foods and cut down about 300 calories a day.
How effective are low-calorie diets?
If your BMI is over 30 (which your doctor will call “obese”), a low-calorie diet may allow you to lose about 3 to 5 pounds per week, for an average total weight loss of 44 pounds over the 12 weeks.
Losing that much weight may improve weight-related medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. But in the long run, low-calorie diets will be no more effective than mediocre diets. As soon as you stop a diet, you need to change your lifestyle, stick to healthy eating and regular physical activity.
Are low-calorie diets safe?
Low-calorie diets are not suitable for everyone. Talk to your doctor to see if this type of diet is right for you.
If your BMI is greater than 30, very low-calorie diets are generally safe when used under proper medical supervision.