Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Great Debate

A lot of random thoughts pop into my head over the course of a week. According to my extensive Google research the number of thoughts an average person has in the course of a day is somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000. That’s a lot of information to process, actions to action and questions to ponder.

One of the random thoughts I had this week came while I was watching TV and saw an ad for low fat cheese. I just want to put it out there that one of the joys of my life is cheese and I think any tampering with the fat content is pretty much an abomination against nature and a slap in the face to the poor cows that work so hard to give us the milk that makes our cheese.  But watching this ad led to a chain of thoughts about diet and ”healthy “ food products and I wanted to assault your eyeballs and to see if you had any thoughts on the subject.

Take a trip to any supermarket in the western world and your brain could very well be overloaded by the sheer volume of food choices available.  And over the last ten or twenty years an increasing number of diet based, low fat , reduced sugar , reduced fat, no fat food alternatives have popped up on supermarket shelves for consumers to buy.  And why not – according to a World Health Organisation study done in 2008 , 1.4 billion people world wide are overweight or obese. With a potential market like that low fat /diet products are a big potential market.

I just want to chuck in a little disclaimer here so this whole post doesn't make me sound like a hypocrite. Its well documented that I eat junk, that I’m addicted to salt and vinegar chips and that I put wayyyy too much butter on pretty much everything I eat. I actually like McDonalds. Hand me a triple cheeseburger and I’ll be your minion for life. This is not a preachy holier than thou post about whether I'm better than anyone else in the eating stakes. We all know Im not. The questions I’m pondering  here are whether low fat /diet products are a case of clever advertising and whether what we really need is better education  around healthy eating and portion control.

Obviously someone is buying diet food products because there so many alternative versions of them out there  but it’s certainly not me. Pop into Maison Pyjamas and the only thing you’re likely to find that resembles diet anything is reduced fat milk and several bags of chips that have the label “now with 75% less saturated fat” . I didn’t ask the Thins people to reduce the fat content of my chips – they just took it upon themselves to do it to provide an apparently healthier product - and does anyone else find it ironic that a product that in all likelihood contributes a fair amount to my own less than slender frame is called Thins? )

Manufacturers  are  careful not to label their products “ diet”  because they don’t want you to think you’re fat – they want you to think when you buy them you’re making healthy choices so you can continue to feel good about yourself.  Nobody wants to actually think they need to diet. And in fact I don’t think the majority of us actually do need to diet – I think we just need to make different food choices.

My take on this whole question is that it’s OK to eat full fat yogurt – just not 5 litres of it a week. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat takeout –just not three times a week. And full fat cheese is not the enemy here – so long as you don’t eat 150 grams of it every single day.

The simple antidote to the need for diet food versions is to eat less and practice portion control. We need to eat a more balanced diet and we need to not be putting highly tampered with food into our bodies under the guise of it being healthy for us simply  because it’s low fat. Many low fat yogurts are incredibly high in sugar or modified sugar substitutes. You practically need a degree in chemical engineering to work out whether it’s really a better alternative and whether while sacrificing fat (and in my opinion taste) you aren’t going to give yourself diabetes or aspartame poisoning.


So I won't be buying low fat anything any time soon. But what about you - what do you think? Are diet products a viable and needed part of what we have available to us as consumers or are they just a clever marketing ploy ?



33 comments:

Kate said...

I think you have the right of it. I don't see anything wrong with lower fat alternatives, but to rely on those to help you loose weight is probably not wise. I agree that portion control and balancing your choices is the only way to loose weight and then keep it off. In my case lots of exercise is also required, portion control alone won't do it.

Mistea said...

Interesting - I have recently been reading about diet (not Diets) both texts are written by professionals - one an addiction nutritionist and the other a heart specialist who both propose eating more whole foods and balancing protein while decreasing the amount of added refined sugars. They both state that fat is an essential part of the diet for both heart and brain health. You will find no diet anything in my fridge or pantry.

Maree: said...

I'm with you on the Cheese full for me too...
it was good of thins to make that choice in our chips...it's all good in the food world..for us anyway lol

Anonymous said...

Anything with diet written on it always tastes like the packaging it comes in. I with you on cheese love it but certainly don't want all the cows hard work to be tampered with. It is like manufacturers take out the taste as soon as it becomes 'diet' or 'fat free'. I am also a Coeliac so having to read a label became a must do thing and very confusing. When compare low or no fat labels the kilojules are nearly the same but the sugar goes up. No wonder my head hurts if I have that many thoughts a day LOL. Louise

Leanne said...

Good question. I don't eat Low fat anything but I have given up sugar and feel much better for it. As I am going to be mother of the bride soon the kilos I am loosing is also good. Love cheese also.

audrey said...

I won't even touch a diet soda and all the low fat dairy stuff is incredibly tasteless. Why waste the time eating it? I do think it's a neat marketing trick but eventually they'll find a new one. They always do.:)

thea said...

I am sure you're right that portion control and choosing the right foods is the way to go.

At my house, we have low fat yogurt and milk and fat free cottage cheese. Pretty much everything else is the non-diet stuff. On occasion, there are diet drinks at the house (and I have been known to drink some) -- seems like such a waste of calories to drink the regular sodas. I usually drink water though.

Some things have been around for a long time, like the fat free milk, formerly known as skim milk. But for the most part, it's just a marketing ploy.

cambric cotton, pins and needles said...

I agree with what you say, everything with that fat free label has been loaded with sugars to make them palatable. These labels have lulled many people into a false sense of security, the best diet is one that has you eating fresh most of the time, with that burger or chips or can of soft drink being occasional food. I'll stick with food the way it is supposed to be, not altered with chemicals.

Pam said...

Every word rings true to me, low fat does not figure in our house. If we want less fat I just hide the butter, when I stir fry I use concentrated chicken stock. I make really thick cut chips and wedges and toss them in a smidgeon of rapeseed oil then oven cook them. There are ways and means of eating healthy without resorting to peculiar foods.

Lorraine said...

I try not to buy low fat/non fat stuff....but sometimes it's hard to find the "full fat" variety..I am with Leanne - I think fat is essential and too much sugar is the enemy .....and apparently so many of us have low VitD levels because of low fat foods....apparently...allegedly ...

Suzan said...

I think that many people don't have any idea how to stop at 3 cookies so there are low fat cookies produced so that they can have 6. Truth be told, those same people probably think that since they would normally have 6 regular cookies anyway, 12 low fat would be ok. I do believe that marketing "diet friendly" products is just that - a marketing ploy.

I love butter. I never use margarine. I eat regular fat filled cheese. The only thing I consume with a lower fat content is milk. I use 2% just because I like it better than whole milk.

Michelle Ridgway said...

I think you nailed it. I refer back to my grandmother for guidance on this subject...if she wouldn't know what it was I try not to eat it but she also had a great saying...a "little" bit of what you fancy does you good. I think actually all this low fat guff is a con...it is usually full of sugar.

Cindy said...

VERY good topic of discussion! You are 100% correct. They best, and truly only way, to be healthy is a balanced diet along with exercise. Any time your food is processed, or tapered with to decrease it from it's natural state, it becomes no more healthy for you than a bag of full fat cookies. The less processed your food, the better. Moderation and balance are the key. There's my 2 cents. :)

Nanci Stokes said...

I totally agree with you on the scale of eating less. Having said that, I eat too much of my own cooking! I like what I cook, it's hard to do portion control with chicken pot pie, and strawberry shortcake...how does one do that?
And I do not buy low fat stuff either...as far as yoghurt is concerned...Greek is totally out... OMG...do they eat that?

Jennifer said...

Low fat usually means low flavour too, had you noticed?

MB in MI said...

Well said! Great post.

Denise in PA said...

I totally agree, Shay! I much rather practice portion control and enjoy everything I eat!

piecemealquilts.com said...

Look at the labels - if something is "low ___" it's usually high in something else. Low fat products are often very high in sodium, sometimes sugar. Fat carries flavor, and to combat that they add a lot of salt, which is just as bad for you. While it's true that we need fat, we should be looking for "good" fat. Unsaturated fats are actually good for you. Trans fats are bad for you. If it says "hydrogenated" on the label, try to avoid it. The jury is still out on saturated fats, so don't over do. What does that mean? Well, avoid margarine, use more olive oil, and butter may not be the evil that it's credited for.

I absolutely agree, the labeling is mostly smoke and mirrors. There are some responsible product manufacturers, but they're generally labeling their foods with what they HAVE, not what they DON'T have. High fiber, for example, or whole grains. Even that can be misleading, depending on the laws.

I will not give up full fat cheese (or butter). I'm from Wisconsin (USA), and our state nickname is America's Dairyland. Residents are, affectionately or derogatorily, called Cheeseheads. Some of us actually wear big foam wedges of cheese as hats at sporting events. (I'm not proud of that last bit, by the way.) I use good, strongly flavored cheeses because it's easier to be satisfied with a small amount.

Bottom line (heh heh - "bottom") - we eat too much convenience food and that's why we are overweight. Fresh, minimally prepared food is healthier, but we don't take (or have, in many cases) the time. And in many cases, we don't have the education either about nutrition or food preparation.

Yes, this is a bit of soap box for me, which is kind of funny because I am part of the obesity epidemic.

Anonymous said...

completely agree with you. Adjusted portions of real food is the only way we should be eating. I haven't had processed food (except for peanut butter and ketchup) in my home for years. Portion control is hard though, there's always that little voice that keeps saying you need just a little bit more......

Canadian Abroad said...

Is it wrong that I read this post while eating a chocolate muffin? Home made with all the right ingredients - like butter, etc. Because I feel good for it. I eat more raw veggies and less crap when I want to lose weight. Works a charm.

Shevvy said...

You are right, fat adds taste so they substitute it with sugars instead.
My diet is crappy and unhealthy, but I know all the reasons why. I know that sensible balance eating rather than lots of junk would work a treat.
One thing I will never eat though is cheese. It's evil! Very very evil. Why would you eat milk that's gone off and left to fester?
Plus I'm allergic to it - but I never liked it anyway!

Sheila said...

I agree with everything you say. Only exception. I prefer to drink skim milk. Taste. Just me.
Good post :D

Lee said...

I too am in your camp! So much of the 'diet/low-fat/low-sugar/trend-of-the-day' is nothing more than marketing because the media reports we're all too fat (even the skinny mini's). OK, some of us (me) are admittedly too 'fat' but there are some things I like, like REAL butter, the occasional or more bag of chips, pie, I like pie - ok no, I don't eat it very often. On obesity - the two keys are: eat whatever you like in moderation and wisdom, and get exercise. Those of us who live in the suburbs can't eat like the farmer sweating from sun-up to sun-down in the field. And sorry, I think a lot of the 'nature/organic' food stuffs are all hype with little content too!

Elizabeth said...

There are studies that link diet soda to weight gain. I don't know where those studies are, but I do know they exist. Subsequently, I refuse to drink diet soda (or consume anything was aspartame in it).

I agree with you 100%. It is has more to do with education than marketing. I'd rather eat less of a naturally occurring substance than copious amounts of a "low fat" manufactured product.

Also, a coworker's husband is a chemist and margarine is one molecule away from plastic.

xo -E

Sue SA said...

Food in general is a marketing ploy, diet or otherwise. If we gave up eating processed stuff that came in a packet and stuck with meat, fruit, vegetables and wholegrain carbs then we would all be healthy...but very few of us do! I buy low fat grated cheese because cheese isnt my thing and mixed into meals I figure who can tell!
I have started to buy wholemeal pasta (lasagna sheets) and high fibre spagetti because it still tastes the same and is better for you. But doubt I will be giving up chocolate, chips and take away hot chips as my occasional treats OR coffee as a daily necessity! Definately addicted to sugar, but just try to do it in small doses AND I am trying to give up baking, cos if I make it I eat it and its my hips that suffer! So sewing is goign to be my on going addiction because it is calorie free...just wish FMQ used calories the the world would be perfect!

Pokey said...

I'm with you, all of us would do better to use our heads. There is alot to be said for moderation. We drink a low fat milk, but still like the butter, too. And we have agreed one take out hamburger a month is not the end of the world, but let's use moderation. Give me olive oil, avocados, and the yum fats, just a smaller serving, please ~
:-}pokey

Anne-Lise at Rag, Tag, Bobtail said...

Hear, hear! I totally agree - especially about cheese - mmmm!!! And the smaller portions bit - I am trying :-)
I do use low fat sour cream - I like the taste better.

Kirsten's Cooking said...

I eat everything, as you well know. I prefer to eat a little of everything I like, while trying to exercise regularly.

Especially in terms of dairy, full-fat is the way to go, with less additives, typically.

I do wish I could find the secret for curbing a ferocious appetite. Ugh.

Shasta Matova said...

There are a lot of things that are naturally low fat - fruits and vegetables for instance - but we seem to have forgotten that, or the manufacturers have doctored them so much that it is no longer low fat, so we need labels on products to help us remember which is which. Definitely it is about portion control and making better choices. I would prefer things to be naturally healthier, and don't mind a label telling me it is.

AnnieO said...

The replacement of fat with sugar is a cruel joke on those who think anything labeled "low fat" means low calories!

I think everyone knows how they are supposed to eat, but most of us are just too lazy/busy/stuck in a rut. My DH keeps bringing crack into the house (BBQ potato chips)and expecting this addict not to partake. I've been sabotaged!

quiltygal said...

Amen Sister !!! You know my take on this subject so I won't get on my soap box just to say that research is saying that "diet food" & especially "diet drinks" can make people overweight. Artificial sweetener can cause major health issues. Ok getting off the box now. Eat less move more ( just need to practice what I've just preached )

Katy Cameron said...

Yup, a lot of the 'low fat' options are 'high sugar' options. My low fat extends to the 0% Total Greek Yoghurt, since that has no additional stuff in it (it's like the plainest of plain yoghurts) and then I add in my own fruit and home made granola. Oh, and I do low fat cheddar too. Since they can't stick sugar in that ;o) I have also sucked it up on Coke Zero. But I mostly avoid the 'diet market' shite and shudder when I see some of the things the North Americans particularly get in the way of processed diet crap, a ton of which the European Union has thankfully banned half the ingredients in ;o)

Oh, what really makes me laugh? Supersized Mickey D meals with Diet Coke. Yep, that'll help...

Brenda said...

Good post, and I agree, I think too much of our food has been tampered with. That said, I am TERRIBLE at portion control!