I have a confession to make. For the last 15 years, I’ve had an ongoing love affair with Diet Coke. It started back in high school when I was looking for a way to satisfy my sweet tooth without the excess calories, and since then, my affection for this bubbly beverage has only grown. I love its crisp, refreshing flavor. I crave its sparkling bubbles. And more than anything, I love the fact that I can drink an entire 32-ounce cup with absolutely zero calories. But just like every good love story, this one must come to an end. Even though Diet Coke is sweet, refreshing and calorie-free, it’s absolutely horrible for my health. Diet soda decreases kidney function, weakens bones, stimulates sweet cravings, and possibly even elevates blood sugar and promotes weight gain. A recent study published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that diet soda drinkers gained almost triple the amount of belly fat as non-users over a 10 year period. How can that be? My favorite calorie-free beverage is actually making me fatter? Clearly, it’s time for a change.
The truth is, there are plenty of “healthy” diet alternatives that really aren’t so healthy after all. Sometimes, the foods we gravitate towards in an effort to be more health conscious are actually promoting unhealthy cravings, nutrition deficiencies and weight gain. Take a look at some of these unhealthy diet swaps and ask yourself whether it’s time to change what goes on your plate.
Fat-free dairy products
Fat-free yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese might seem like an easy way to enjoy dairy without the guilt, but oftentimes, what these products lack in fat content they make up for in sugars and chemical additives. To stay leaner and avoid unnecessary additives, go with full-fat dairy instead. Swedish researchers discovered that men who consumed high-fat dairy products gained less fat in their midsections than those who occasionally or rarely consumed high-fat dairy. So treat yourself to some full-fat milk, cheese or sour cream.
Stick margarine was once touted as the healthier alternative to butter, but now experts say “not so.” This butter substitute contains trans fats, the type of fat that decreases good cholesterol, increases bad cholesterol, and has been linked to stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Butter and tub margarine without hydrogenated oils are the best alternatives to stick margarine, but be sure to use them sparingly and monitor the saturated fat content.
Going gluten-free may seem like the latest and greatest way to shed some pounds, but unless you suffer from celiac disease, a diet without gluten could leave you with some serious nutritional deficiencies. Gluten-free products tend to be lacking in vital nutrients, such as calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, fiber and B vitamins. Instead of strictly eliminating gluten from your diet, shift your focus towards eating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. If you do decide to cut back on gluten, choose foods that are naturally gluten-free such as rice, corn, nuts and seeds (Source: Time).
On the surface, granola bars appear to be the perfect healthy treat. They’re roughly 100 calories, made with whole grain oats, and some of them even come stocked with extra fiber, calcium and other nutrients. But take a closer look at the ingredient list and you’ll see that you might just be eating a glorified candy bar. For a healthier alternative, try making some homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds, whole grain cereal and dried fruit. It’s a great way to get your daily dose of vitamins, nutrients and fiber without the artificial additives and preservatives.
Vitamin water sounds healthy enough, but when you consider that each bottle contains more than 30 grams of sugar, you might as well be drinking a soda. Even the sugar-free varieties are sweetened with artificial sweeteners, making vitamin water a lose/lose choice for healthy hydration. In this case, it’s best to just stick with good old fashioned H2O. No artificial colors, additives or sweeteners – just pure, crystal clear refreshment.