Countless products in the health foods isle of your local grocery store don’t belong there.
Many of them boast labels like low or reduced fat.
The problem with low-fat products is simple. To accommodate for the loss of flavour that comes with removing the cream or richness in a product, food manufacturers tend to add sugar. The end result is a product that may have fewer calories and less fat, but has more sugar instead.
While high-fat diets have not been implicated in weight gain, high-sugar diets have.
The authors of a review of 50 studies on diet and weight gain published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research found that, on average, the more refined carbohydrates (such as sugar) that someone ate, the more weight they tended to gain over the study period. Similarly, the researchers behind a large review of 68 studies published in the British Medical Journal found that the more sugar someone consumed, the more they weighed.
In other words, the amount of sugar in a participant’s diet could be used to roughly predict their weight, the researchers found.
Read on to find out what other high-sugar, low-fat foods truly don’t deserve a healthy label.
Peanut butter and jelly
Most peanut butter contains added sugar; jelly is replete with the ingredient. Slap those ingredients between two slices of white bread and you’ve got a sandwich that packs 20 grams of sugar, 14 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated), and 400 calories.
How it happened: The Great Depression popularised peanut butter on bread as a cheaper-than-meat substitute for protein. When it was combined with Welch’s Grapelade – one of the first iterations of jelly – in the rations of WWI soldiers in the US, the PB&J became an official hit.
The problem: For decades, we’ve been led to believe that eggs are bad for us because they’re packed with cholesterol. Flavourless egg substitutes ranging from Egg Beaters to pre-blended cartons of egg whites packed grocery store shelves in the 1990s and early 2000s.
How it happened: As it turns out, the cholesterol in eggs doesn’t significantly raise blood cholesterol for the vast majority of us; and the majority of the initial research which suggested it did was done in rabbits, who are vegetarians.
Bottled juices and fast-casual smoothies
The problem: Just because they pack lots of fruit, bottled smoothies and those sold at places like Jamba Juice are not necessarily healthy. But most are also incredibly high in sugar and calories. A 15-ounce bottle of Mighty Mango-flavored Naked Juice has 290 calories, 68 grams of carbs, and a whopping 57 grams of sugar. For comparison, a 16-ounce bottle of Coke has 44 grams of sugar.
How it happened: The first blender was invented in the late 1930s, and Steve Kuhnau, who was reportedly experimenting with blending fruits and veggies to combat some of his own allergies and health problems, founded the first Smoothie King restaurant in Louisiana in 1973.
The problem: Bowls of sugar-laden empty carbs got swapped for protein-rich components of the “balanced breakfast.” A cup of Reese’s Puffs, for example, has 160 calories, 4 grams of fat (1 gram saturated), 13 grams of sugar, 29 grams of carbs and more than 3 grams of protein. A high-sugar, low-protein diet can increase hunger pangs and mood swings and leave you with low energy. Not exactly the best way to start the school day.
How it happened: As Jaya Saxena wrote in a post for Serious Eats, “Cereal’s position as America’s default breakfast food is a remarkable feat, not of flavour or culture, but of marketing and packaging design.”
It all started, Saxena writes, with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, manager of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a Seventh-day Adventist health resort advertised as a place where upper-middle-class Americans could go for a health tune-up.
Kellogg, a vegetarian, advocated turning away from meat in favour of yogurt, nuts, and grains. Then, in 1895, C.W. Post, a former Battle Creek patient, founded his own cereal company with Postum, a “cereal beverage intended to replace coffee,” as its poster product.
The problem: We’ve been wrongly convinced that we need sugar water to prepare and refuel after a hot date with the gym. In reality, exercise scientists recommend drinking water and eating or drinking 20 grams of protein, since studies suggest that it helps recondition and build muscles.
How it happened: Working out causes you to lose fluids and electrolytes like sodium and chloride. If you’re dehydrated for long periods, it can put a strain on your muscles and reduce your performance. Although drinking water will solve the problem just fine, ingesting a mix electrolytes and sugar instead will do the trick slightly faster.
The problem: Orange juice has become a ubiquitous component of the American breakfast. But the act of juicing a fruit removes most of its fibre, the key ingredient that keeps you feeling full and satisfied until your next meal. The result: mostly just sugar and water.
How it happened: Historian Harvey Levenstein writes in his book, “Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat,” that biochemist Elmer McCollum, who helped discover vitamins A, B, and D and warned against vitamin-deficient diets in the 1920s, provided ample material for orange growers, whose sales at the time were sagging.
Under the Sunkist brand, the California Fruit Growers Exchange created a campaign focused on drinking orange juice to get these vitamins in an easy, tasty way.
The problem: We’ve been led to believe that this $US4-a-serving beverage is a panacea for everything from post-workout dehydration to cancer.
How it happened: Since taking off globally in the mid-2000s, the coconut-water business has mushroomed into a $US400 million industry dominated by just three giant companies. Ads featuring glowing celebrities like Rihanna relaxing on beaches helped push the trend into high gear.
“Light” ice creams
The problem: We’ve been led to believe that low-fat products will lead to increased overall health and weight loss. An eight-year trial involving almost 50,000 women suggested that’s highly unlikely. When roughly half of the participants went on a low-fat diet, they didn’t lower their risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or heart disease. Plus, they didn’t lose much weight, if any.
How it happened: Headlines of the 1980s and ’90s were filled with missives that fat was killing us. Ironically enough, many food makers began replacing all this fat with another ingredient: sugar.
New recommendationsshow that healthy fats, like those from nuts, fish, and avocados, are actually good for you in moderation. So add them back into your diet if you haven’t already.
The problem: We associate anything crunchy and sold in bags in the health-food aisle with nature-loving hikers – people who get lots of exercise and keep their bodies lean and healthy. But granola is no health product. In fact, it’s packed with sugar and calories – a cup contains about 600 calories, or the same amount as two turkey and cheese sandwiches or about four cereal bars.
How it happened: The first “corporate granola,” according to a 1978 Rolling Stone article, was Heartland Natural Cereal. Its roots reach back to the ’60s, when Seventh-day Adventist Wayne Schlotthauer, who’d been operating the world’s largest granola factory in California using a recipe his grandma had brought over from Germany, was approached by Layton Gentry. Schlotthauer sold him the West Coast rights to the granola recipe for $US18,000.