Just say no
Have you ever wondered why people on diets seem to be on and off them forever? Or why it’s really only people who struggle with their weight who have extra low-fat mayonnaise in their fridge? Most processed foods branded as diet, low-fat, light or lighter aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. And if you look at their lengthy ingredients lists, you’ll realise that they’re not even very good for you.
Take low-fat mayonnaise. When you strip out the fat you have to reinject flavour with sweetness. So an emulsion of eggs and oil becomes an emulsion of water, maize starch, extra sugar and glucose syrup. Or to put another way: water, sugar, sugar and sugar. That’s an awful lot of sugar, and because the traffic lights on packets of food don’t flash red until a whopping 27g of sugar is in each 100g portion – that’s just under seven teaspoons – a busy shopper won’t think twice about choosing this “healthy” option.
Other culprits are microwaveable low-fat meals. The high glycaemic index, carbohydrates and sugars aside, manufacturers are so busy bending backwards to limbo under the threshold for each of the other traffic-light categories that they often leave out plenty of healthy foods such as positive fats, fruits, vegetables and fibres. It’s why they’re often so tasteless and don’t leave you feeling full for long.
The diet food industry is a headless beast driven by market forces: it makes good business sense to make low-quality food with effective branding. The only way we can bring it to its knees and stop this tyranny of tiny, tasteless meals is to become savvy consumers and stop buying them. If you feel yourself being seduced by an alluringly presented diet food and don’t have time to interrogate its ingredients, a good rule of thumb is to just say no.