A customer, Mary, wrote in because she couldn’t seem to lose that stubborn last 10 pounds.
So we asked her about her daily diet, and it looked pretty good. Except there was one big problem…
She told me that she enjoyed a mid-morning granola bar daily. She bought her favorite snack by the case, thinking it was a healthy choice to include in her daily diet plan.
After all, this tasty treat contained a mere 200 calories and the package proclaimed to help keep her full all morning long.
You might also think granola bars are good for your diet. But it turns out that this was the very thing that was holding Mary back. You will find out why later in this article.
Many of us think we’re eating healthy, good-for-us foods that won’t make us gain an ounce because the package proclaims the foods are “natural” or “diet” or “calorie-free.” But in reality, many diet or natural foods are anything but.
Let’s take a closer look at three foods that might be working against your weight-loss efforts… and yes, one of those is granola bars…
1. “Diet” soda
The average 12-ounce can of regular soda packs about 150 calories, while the same size diet drink is…drum roll please…zero calories. Seems like a calorie-saving no-brainer, right? Not so fast. Diet sodas may actually be stoking your sweet tooth, setting off cravings that lead you to binge on high-calorie foods later.
How? Blame it on biology.
Let me explain. Normally, after your tastebuds have sensed sweet, a message is delivered to the brain that a high-calorie food’s a’comin. That triggers a biochemical cascade that promotes a feeling of fullness.
But the diet-soda sweet isn’t followed up with the promised calories. So if you drink diet drinks often enough, the brain will learn to ignore sweet taste as a predictor of a big-calorie payoff, and continue to want more and more food.
Science proves this out. In one study published in Physiology and Behavior1, researchers enrolled 24 healthy adults who either drank at least one diet soda daily or avoided drinking diet soda altogether.
After measuring brain scan activity, researchers found that regularly drinking diet sodas inhibits activation in a key area of the brain that helps to regulate food intake.
Additionally, the more diet soda participants drank, the less their sweet sensors worked properly. In other words, regularly drinking diet soda stymies the brain’s ability to let you know you are full.
Maybe that is why, according to a long-term study from the University of Texas, diet soda drinkers’ waists expanded five times more than those who did not drink diet sodas.2
2. Low-fat or fat-free salad dressings
You douse your lettuce and dip your celery stalks in so-called diet dressings to mask the ho hum flavor. But these packaged salad dressings typically contain high-fructose corn syrup, which, according to a 10-week study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation3, was found to not only increase abdominal fat, but also raise cholesterol and decrease insulin sensitivity.
In addition, the calories per serving—typically one to two tablespoons—tend to be deceptively low. You’re most likely shaking on two or three times more than a serving, doubling or even tripling the calorie count listed on the label.
3. Granola bars
As you now know, the word “natural” has nothing to do with low-calorie. A recent evaluation of over 2,500 packaged granola, protein or energy bars published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics revealed that almost four out of five contain cane sugar, corn syrup, honey or another sweetener that contributes empty calories of little or no nutritional value.4 Meaning they benefit neither your waistline nor your health.
So, what are some good alternatives? Here are a few ideas:
Instead of diet soda, use 100 percent fruit juice (try concord grape, pomegranate or cranberry) to make ice cubes then add them to a glass of seltzer. As the ice melts it will sweeten the seltzer and add loads of antioxidants.
Instead of granola bars, keep a perfect portion (one ounce) of almonds or walnuts in a small tin or plastic bag in your purse, briefcase, desk drawer or car to provide a protein-rich snack that will help curb your appetite. Craving something sweet? Add two squares of dark chocolate to the mix.
Instead of packaged, fat-free salad dressings, sub in your own, made fresh. Try olive oil, vinegar and fresh herbs. Or, use the full-fat version of your favorite dressing. While it may contain more fat, you’ll likely be more satisfied with just a little bit of it, rather than the great gobs you have to use to feel fulfilled with the no-fat version. Thus, saving calories on the backend.
Added bonus: You’ll get more nutrients out of your salad. A study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, found that when people paired their salads with full-fat dressing, they absorbed more fat-soluble carotenoids, (antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease).5
What are the most common diet foods you’re eating these days? Are they truly helping you get to your weight-loss goal? Post your number one noshes and I’ll let you know.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.
I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!
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1. Green E, Murphy C. Altered processing of sweet taste in the brain of diet soda drinkers. Physiol Behav. 2012;107(4):560-567.
3. Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. 2009;119(5):1322-1334.
4. Ng SW, Slining MM, Popkin BM. Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(11):1828-1834.
5. Shellen R. Goltz, Wayne W. Campbell, Chureeporn Chitchumroonchokchai, Mark L. Failla, Mario G. Ferruzzi. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2012; 56 (6): 866 DOI: