1. If sugar free foods help weight loss, then why does the US which has the greatest consumption of these foods have the highest incidence of obesity?
2. If very low fat and fat-free products aid weight loss, then why does the US which markets the largest range of low-fat foods have the fattest population?
3. If people are obese because of their genetic heritage, then why are people fatter now than at any other point in history?
1. When the sugar is removed from 'diet' or 'healthy choice' foods to make them less calorific, it is replaced with artificial sweeteners. These chemicals contain no calories but many times sweeter than sugar. Intense sweetness tricks the brain; the traditionally flavored snack delivers few calories, and may set up a craving for other foods high in natural sugars. The sugar-free snack can encourage the person to eat more; studies have shown that individuals who choose drinks containing artificial sweeteners go on to eat more food than usual at subsequent meals. It is also thought that the intense flavors dull the sense of taste so that a sweet snack such as a piece of fruit becomes less 'tasty' and satisfying; the body begins to crave the stronger flavors found in highly processed and highly calorific foods. Studies have shown that children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of sweeteners; it is much healthier to give smaller amounts of naturally sweetened foods to children, and bin everything (including drinks) with artificial sweeteners in.
2. Fat makes a mouthful of food feel good; the eating experience is more pleasurable. Think of the difference between a dry cracker, and a cracker thickly spread with butter or cheese. Low-fat foods are stripped of their fat, and therefore less pleasurable. Do you want to spend money on food which is much less good to eat than something else? No, so the food companies cram sugar, salt, bulking agents, flavor enhancers and artificial flavors by the bucket-full into low-fat products. Not only is this an unhealthy choice, but people almost always eat more of a low-fat food than its full-fat friend (oh it's low-fat, I may as well have another one ... and another ...). People who choose low-fat foods consume around 28% more calories than those who go for the regular fatty food. It is important to remember that a diet rich in fats is extremely important to health; it is the type of fat you eat which is important; go for olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
3. Many people believe that their weight is determined by their genetic heritage (I have moaned about this in the past, while consoling myself with a packet of custard creams). From time to time research will pop up about a 'fat gene,' and there is no doubt that your genetic profile will influence your size and shape. This does not however explain the very recent obesity problem. The fattest nation is the US where the genetic heritage is drawn from most countries of the world; the common denominator is the bad diet and decreasing activity levels. A study was made into the Pima Indians; a genetic group half of whom live in Arizona and have adopted a western lifestyle and diet, and half of whom maintain a traditional farming lifestyle and diet in the Sierra Madre mountains. It will not surprise you to learn that the group with the Western lifestyle has suffered from an epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes where as their cousins who still work the land and eat traditional foods have a low incidence of obesity and related problems. The message is that some people do have a genetic predetermined risk of becoming overweight and suffering from related illnesses when exposed to unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle. For this group it is imperative that they spurn processed foods, and exercise regularly (instead of wiping into a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows).
Wishing to keep a healthy and balanced weight is about making choices in the way that you live; eating a fresh, healthy and balanced diet; removing processed foods and increasing activity levels. Substituting 'bad' foods for diet foods does nothing to reeducate the body and mind away from the need to comfort eat, self-reward and 'indulge.' Eating low-sugar and low-fat foods may make us feel so virtuous, that we let a jumbo Toblerone slip down (well I have been so good all week) or eat a little too well at meal times. Diet foods are a lie; they are not healthy and encourage us to believe that we can have what we want without paying the consequences, but the joke is that they will probably make you fatter in the end. Genetics can not be blamed for weight-gain; fat is laid down when the amount of calories going in is greater than the amount of calories going out. The answer is to eat a diet consisting of freshly prepared unprocessed foods and to stay as active as possible. Do not cheat yourself with diet foods, question your need for biscuits, cakes or crisps and choose a healthy alternative; a bowl of strawberries and a spoon of natural yoghurt is really tastier than a low-fat chocolate pudding, and you can have seconds!