If you go into your supermarket and look at the shelves, for almost every unhealthy product you can find, you’ll also find a diet or “light” version. The diet version will have less fat or sugar and be promoted as healthy. In an effort to lose weight, more and more people are switching to diet foods.

It’s not just overweight people choosing diet foods either; many of us eat these foods because we think that, being diet foods, they must be healthier. Ironically, it could be diet foods that are actually responsible for making you fat and unhealthy!

Diet foods come in various guises including:

● Reduced fat, low fat and fat-free
● Low sugar and sugar-free
● Low carb and carb-free
● Low calorie
● Lite or light foods
● Replacing unhealthy ingredients with more unhealthy ingredients…

Creating a diet food invariably means removing something from the product in question and replacing it with something else. In the case of low fat foods, the fat is often replaced with sugar whereas in low sugar foods, the sugar is replaced with artificial sweeteners.

In almost every case, what is used to replace the high calorie ingredient is just as bad for your health and may even accelerate weight gain.

For example, removing fat and replacing it with sugar will reduce the calorie content of a food – fat contains nine calories per gram and sugar contains only four. However, where fat is higher in calories, it is also a relatively inert substance. Sugar, however, is far from inert and causes significant changes in your body chemistry, all of which promotes fat storage.

A large serving of sugar will:

● Increase blood glucose.
● Trigger the release of insulin.
● Shunts sugar (glucose) into muscle and liver cells
● Once muscle and liver cells are full, glucose is then converted into fat and shunted into fat cells.
● While insulin and blood glucose levels are elevated, fat burning grinds to a halt.
● After insulin has done its job, blood glucose levels fall rapidly leading to increased hunger and cravings for sugar and the entire cycle begins again.

The result? That low fat (but high sugar) diet food has the potential to cause greater fat storage despite being lower in calories. Interestingly, while higher in calories, fat is more filling because it plays a significant role in delaying gastric emptying. Subsequently, you probably won’t eat as much of the regular product as you will the diet product.


Artificial sweeteners are not much better. While they may be very low in calories or even calorie-free, they still stimulate parts of your brain that crave sweetness and are moderately addictive in the same way that sugar is. Swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners is like swapping cocaine for heroin; in some ways they are different but in other ways they are very much the same.


While removing fat or sugar from certain foods does reduce its calorific value, it often only does so by a relatively small amount – not enough to have much of an effect on bodyweight. For example, a regular cookie might contain 90 calories while the light version contains 70. If you have a few cookies, this simply translates as eating one less than normal. That is NOT going to produce significant weight loss.

It’s also interesting to note that there is no real regulation how much lower in calories a diet food has to be compared to the regular version. Just because a food is labelled as diet does not mean it is significantly lower in calories. The same is true of “light” products. Spurious marketing terms mean that many of us pick up diet foods without actually knowing how diet-friendly they actually are.


Diet foods create a phenomenon commonly called the health halo. The health halo happens when you eat more of a diet product than you would have the regular product because you believe it’s healthier. For example, instead of eating one bag of regular potato chips you eat two bags of diet chips because, being lower in fat, it’s okay to do so.

The biggest problem with diet foods is the message they present to consumers; that it’s okay to eat large amounts of junk food. The occasional treat is no big deal and there is no reason not to enjoy a few unhealthy foods as part of an otherwise balanced diet. However, the marketing behind diet foods suggest that you can eat these products all the time and still stay healthy. This simply is not true.


Cookies, cakes, sweets, ice cream, soft drinks, potato chips, processed meals – junk food in general – are directly responsible for weight gain and ill health. Replacing these foods with diet versions that are slightly lower in calories and expecting to lose weight is ludicrous. However, because of clever marketing and more than a little misrepresentation, diet food manufacturers have convinced us that their diet products are healthier than the regular foods they replace.

Diet junk foods may be lower in calories, fat, or sugar but they are still devoid of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. There is a lot more to healthy nutrition and weight management than calories and while calories definitely count, so too should the nutritional value of the food we eat.

If you want to have a treat, feel free to have the occasional cookie, soda, or potato chip. If you exercise and eat healthily 90% of the time you probably deserve it. It is, however, a mistake to think you can eat lots of diet junk foods and still lose weight and be healthy. If these things actually worked, there would be a whole lot less overweight people around. It’s pretty clear that this is not the case – the proof is in the (diet) pudding!


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