Most of us would probably like to eat healthier. This is a noble goal and everything, but problems tend to arise when we take shortcuts, follow fads, and listen to marketing messages unquestioningly. Doing these things leads us to grab anything that says “low fat” or “diet” off the shelf at the grocery store without even taking a cursory glance at the ingredients, patting ourselves on the back for making such mindful choices, and then going home and eating twice as much of it because hey, it’s “healthy.”
Except a lot of the time, these so called healthy alternatives aren’t so healthy after all. One of the main reasons is this: companies know we want to feel like we’re making healthy choices, but they also know that legitimately healthy versions of the high calorie foods we know and love tend to taste like cardboard.
They also know few are willing to adapt and deal with less flavorful versions of their favorite junk foods for the sake of health — so instead, they just reduce the fat, or add a healthy-sounding ingredient, or replace some of the sugar with an artificial sweetener, and then put a leaf or a skinny person on the package rebrand it as “diet.”
They get our dollars, we come away feeling wonderfully health-conscious, and everybody wins. (Except health. Health doesn’t win.)
The thing is, these “diet foods” aren’t always healthier than their regular counterparts. Just because trail mix has (dried, candied) fruit in it doesn’t mean it’s not full of sugar. Just because reduced fat peanut butter has less fat in it doesn’t mean it’s not also full of sugar. Just because diet soda is full of artificial sugar instead of regular sugar doesn’t mean it’s not still soda.
For a real healthy alternative, you’re better off eating a piece of fresh fruit or a handful of unsalted nuts, or dipping your vegetables in a little bit of regular ranch dressing instead of drowning them in a sea of the reduced fat kind. Or, alternatively, learning to appreciate less processed foods that aren’t, y’know, full of sugar.