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Why “Mid-Calorie” Foods Are a Bad Idea

  • by
  • October 7, 2012
  • 10:00 am
Why “Mid-Calorie” Foods Are a Bad Idea

There’s a new trend in healthy eating for what’s known as mid-calorie foods, the Associated Press recently reported. Food companies are working to develop products that have fewer calories than the original versions but that also taste almost as good. With so many “diet” products having come and gone, companies now know that consumers won’t eat it unless it tastes good, no matter how supposedly healthy for them. Mid-calorie foods look to achieve the right balance of flavor with fewer calories.

Hershey’s introduced Simple Pleasures, a chocolate with 30% less fat, in June, Lay’s rolled out new flavors of reduced-fat Kettle Cooked potato chips in July and Pepsi just released a reduced-calorie soda made with stevia in Australia. The U.S. version of Pepsi Next, which was introduced earlier this year and is made with a mix of artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup, has half the calories of regular, CBS News reports. “Shaving a few calories,” says the Associated Press article, “enables companies to market their cakes, cookies and chips as healthier without the stigma of bad taste that goes along with some low-fat products.”

The mid-calorie trend comes at a time when food and beverage companies “are being blamed for the country’s expanding waistlines.” But reformulated processed foods are hardly the solution.

To begin with, many people may eat more of the mid-calorie snacks, desserts and drinks because they think they can. “It becomes a problem when people overestimate how much more they can eat of nonfat ice cream or low-calorie chips,” Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told the Associated Press. Knowing that a food is a lesser version of the original, moreover, may induce a sense of deprivation that can make people want to eat more.

Another problem with the mid-calorie trend is its focus on, well, calories. There’s a culture of “scientific eating” in America today, whereby people fixate on calories, grams and nutrients rather than simply eating good-quality food. But nutritional information, I believe, often only confuses or distracts us from making the right choices. Our penchant for scientific eating, moreover, is exactly what fuels the processed foods industry, which happily and profitably formulates and re-formulates products to meet the specs of the latest health trend. Peel off a bit of cholesterol here, cut some fat over there, replace the high-fructose corn syrup with a sugar substitute, and voila, you have a newly healthified food.

Lastly, the calorie content of a food is not what makes it healthy or unhealthy. In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, Dean Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, writes: “The country is preoccupied with calories… Perhaps the biggest misconception is that as long as you lose weight, it doesn’t matter what you eat. But it does… What you eat affects which diseases you may develop, regardless of whether you’re thin or fat.”

Similarly, as the New York Times recently reported and as Care2′s Beth Buczynski discussed, study after study has shown that “overweight and moderately obese patients with certain chronic diseases often live longer and fare better than normal-weight patients with the same ailments,” and now some researchers believe that fitness more than low weight may be the key to health.

Likewise, it’s the “fitness” or the quality of a food that matters more than its content of calories. Whether it’s mid-calorie, low-calorie or full-calorie, the question to ask is, what’s it made of? Hershey’s Simple Pleasures chocolates are artificially flavored and made with 23 ingredients, Lay’s 40% Less Fat Sun-Dried Tomato & Parmesan Kettle Cooked Chips are fried in “vegetable oils” extracted with chemical solvents and Pepsi Next contains three different artificial sweeteners — aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose — in addition to high-fructose corn syrup.

As always, the best rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods, whatever the supposed health benefits touted on the package. As others have pointed out, genuinely healthy foods rarely have to announce their virtues. Unlike these newfangled diet products, they don’t have anything to prove.

Related Stories:

Healthy Diet Is Affordable, Study Shows

All Calories (and All Foods) Are Not Created Equal

Calorie Labeling on Menus May Not Change Eating Habits

Read more: , , , , ,

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87 comments

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11:52AM PST on Jan 13, 2013

have never been convinced by all these low/reduced fat products. I think the general idea if you want to stay healthy and slim is eat less and exercise more..............works, but hard to be motivated by yourself to do it !

2:38PM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

Quoted from Healthy Eating...Besides soda and sweetened beverages, cookies, ice cream and frozen yogurt, pastries and baked goods, you’ll find sugar hiding in condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, salad dressings, jams and jellies, flavored yogurt, breakfast cereal, granola bars, juices and juice concentrates. Don’t fall for the “natural” label; read the label for yourself. And that fancy coffee drink? Look out, big time. You must read labels, because sugar hides in many packaged, processed and prepared foods. NutraSweet and Equal are known to contain three well-recognized neurotoxins which have been associated with thousands of reports of adverse effects.... We do have to be SO careful with sweetners!

6:11AM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

Yuck I will stick with eating healthier items like fresh produce and organic products and good exercise.

6:42AM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

I try to eat healthy, fresh, whole foods for the most part... :0)

5:35PM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

eat fresh foods

3:26PM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

Try break the junk food habit. Yes dried fruits are high in sugar because the drying process concentrates the sugar already contained in the fruit, but it is high in fiber and just a few pieces satisfies my sweet tooth.

3:18PM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

diet foods taste bad, and are not the answer...

3:12PM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

I don't count calories and I don't like fake sweeteners or fats. If I want something I want the real deal. I am not overweight and I think this is because I get regular exercise and do not eat as frequently as some other people I see. Basically just 3 meals a day.

1:01PM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

Thanks. I agree...no processed food is the answer.

10:03AM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

Eat fresh food.

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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