We are now into the second full week of the New Year and that determination to stick to your NYE resolution may have already begun to falter for some. If your resolution was along the lines of eating healthier food in efforts to lose weight, save money or simply improve your health overall, then you'll want to read this post as to whether or not ‘diet food’ is the way to go.
So, what’s the truth about supermarket weight loss foods e.g. Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, McCain Healthy Choice and others? Will you really lose weight by switching to these brands? Today we unmask the foods that are labelled ‘healthy’ or ‘diet’ to see if they really do aid weight loss.
Kilojoules and Dollars
If you have been lulled into a false sense of security by supermarket weight loss brands because of the kilojoule counting method, it’s not too late to re-educate yourself. In our analysis we found that brands labelled or considered as healthy were actually more expensive than their more nutritionally valuable counterparts. Begin with looking at the most common products that you like to buy and comparing their nutritional panels with non-diet brands. Below are some examples of how ‘regular’ products can actually have lower KJ values compared to their ‘diet’ equivalents.
- Uncle Toby’s Plus Fibre Apples & Sultanas = 715KJ per 50g vs Weight Watchers Fruit & Fibre Tropical = 755KJ per 50g
- Sun Rice Thin Rice Cakes = 196KJ per 2 cakes vs Coles Simply Less Thin Rice Cakes = 244KJ per 2 cakes
Basing your decision on health and diet is important, but when you are being charged more for food that is marketed as healthier, but actually isn’t, that’s something which should trigger alarm bells.
Take for example:
- Weight Watchers Cottage Cheese (250g) for $3.99 / 381KJ per 100g vs Dairy Farmers salt reduced Cottage Cheese (250g) for $3.20 / 389KJ per 100g
The extra 12% that you pay for having 8KJ less is hardly good value for money, especially when diet foods generally have higher levels of sugar and salts to increase flavour.
Coles sells its range of 90 products called ‘Coles Simply Less’ which targets health conscious customers. Watching the supermarkets advertising gives you an idea of the message it’s trying to portray: “it won’t hurt the hips, or the hip pocket”. McCain Healthy Choice is another brand, which sells roughly 30 products along with Lean Cuisine, also with around 35 products on offer. The largest brand is certainly Weight Watchers with over 230 supermarket sold products. Included within the weight watchers range, you will find products that have the ‘Approved by Weight Watchers' stamp, along with associated food points from the company.
Now, here comes the insightful bit. Look carefully at the packaging and you will notice that words like ‘diet’ or ‘weight loss’ are not used. These companies instead, use words like ‘lean’, ‘balanced’, ‘guilt-free’ or ‘stay in shape’ to catch weight and health conscious customers attention. Judging a book by its cover comes to mind.
Diet Food Pros
Professor John Funder, executive chair of Obesity Australia mentioned “Diet foods can provide a less harmful alternative for people who are dedicated to losing weight, particularly if they’re looking for a treat.” He argues that if people can monitor how many kilojoules they consume per day they could more easily count 200KJ less per day in efforts to lose weight. This method could show results if followed strictly.
Diet Food Cons
Dr Joanna McMilan agrees that diet food can help you lose weight if you are looking to trade in your rich food for ‘diet’ versions without having to go cold turkey on treats. However, she argues that diet foods are still not clear enough about their contents and that they can trick dieters into a false sense of security.
It’s commonly known that diet foods can be very high in salt, highly processed and contain plenty of sugar, whilst holding very little nutritional value at all. This has been found to be true in products such as jams, biscuits, and salad dressings, however these products do tend to have less kilojoules.
More commonly, people will think that because they have eaten less kilojoules that they can treat themselves, causing overeating. Counting kilojoules is not accurate enough to monitor diet, for example a rice-cracker may contain less KJ than a handful of nuts, but the latter contains more nutrients and will keep you full for longer.
Counting you Kilojoules
Coles’ Simply Less program offers advise on sensible eating, however if you look at the meals, the supermarket does not include and fresh fruit or veg. Instead you will be advised to eat low kilojoule chips, custard, hummus and brownies for example.
Eating lower amounts of KJ might help you lose weight in the short term and you may notice results, but unfortunately it’s no sustainable. It’s simply the most affordable way supermarkets can sell you easily countable results. The only way to find a sustainable and healthy way to maintain weight loss is to speak with a dietician to understand what’s right for your body. Remember, diet brands are also businesses that will sometimes unfortunately lie to you to get you to eat their products. We may call it lying, they may call it marketing.