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Five Diet Foods That are (Far) Worse
Than What They're Replacing

Millions of Americans resolved to lose weight and start eating healthy in 2008, which for many involves purging their pantry of fatty, sugar, salty snacks and replacing them with healthier diet foods.

Now here's some news that may be hard to stomach: some of your most beloved "bad" foods may not be nearly as those you just replaced them with. It may sound incredulous, but it's true.

potato chips

Keep reading to find out why even fat-free potato chips are far from healthy.

The following foods are wolves hiding in sheep's clothing, and you may want to seriously reconsider any diet plan that contains them.

1. Diet Soda

You know regular soda is bad because of all that sugar and "empty" calories, but what's wrong with a diet soft drink to quench your thirst?

Plenty, according to experts. Along with caffeine, like regular soda, diet soda is high in phosphoric acid, a combination that could be bad for your bones. While caffeine can interfere with your body's ability to absorb calcium or increase the amount it gets rid of, the acids in soda can cause the body to become more acidic -- causing it to release even more calcium.

Then there's the problem with the artificial sweeteners, which some say are harmful. Although Splenda is a newcomer to the diet soft drink sweetener market -- and there are growing concerns as to its actual safety -- aspartame is still the most widely used sweetener in diet soda.

"Aspartame is the most complained about additive in U.S. history," says Dr. Joseph Braco, author of Restoring Your Digestive Health. "It's been blamed for everything from headaches to rashes to seizure disorders. I have a physician friend who clearly linked aspartame with his adult-onset seizures."

And as if that wasn't bad enough, a study by Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio found that for every diet soda you drink in a day, you increase your risk of gaining weight -- by 41 percent!

2. Margarine

Butter is full of saturated fat so you're being sensible and eating margarine instead. Healthy right? Not exactly.

Until recently, almost all margarine was loaded with trans fats, an artery-clogging fat formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation. Trans fat poses various serious health risks. It raises your body's level of bad cholesterol (LDL) while scrubbing away the good cholesterol (HDL) that keeps your arteries clean. Your arteries can become clogged, making them inflexible, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

Trans fat can also increase triglycerides and inflammation, a direct link to an increased risk of diabetes.

Alive in 5: Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes

For some truly healthy, natural meals, try the quick and delicious recipes in Alive in 5: Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes.

Nowadays you can find varieties of margarine that are trans-fat-free, but margarine is still loaded with polyunsaturated fats, which come from vegetable oil and are already eaten in overabundance in the American diet.

When polyunsaturated fats are eaten in excess, they can lead to the formation of excess prostanoids, which are chemicals that increase inflammation in your body.

"Prostanoids help control blood pressure, fight allergies, and modulate inflammation, but too much of them -- especially those made from vegetable oils -- can also lead to increased pain, swelling, and redness in various tissues," said William L. Smith, Professor and Chair of Biological Chemistry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

3. Sugar-Free Gum

Goodbye cavities, hello tasty, sugar-free bubble gum. While it seems like the best of both worlds, sugar-free gum is not a wise health choice.

Many of these products contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that can have laxative effects if taken in large amounts. So if you end up chewing numerous pieces of sugar-free gum every day, you could very well end up experiencing stomach cramps, bloating and gas, or, more seriously, malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhea and weight loss.


Don't ruin a healthy salad with a corn-syrup-laden light salad dressing. Try olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and other natural spices instead.

There have already been a couple of reports of people with excessive diarrhea and weight loss that was linked to sugar-free gum and other products.

4. Light Salad Dressings

Getting rid of full-fat dressings and replacing them with light versions may seem like a no brainer, but have you ever looked at the ingredients on a bottle of light salad dressing?

You can expect to find high fructose corn syrup -- not something you should be eating to lose weight -- numerous preservatives, and food coloring like yellow 6, which has been found to cause adrenal gland and kidney tumors, and contains small amounts of many carcinogens.

Sound healthy? We think not. You're much better off dressing your salad with a little olive oil, Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar any day.

5. Light Potato Chips

Fat-free potato chips and tortilla chips? If it sounds too good to be true, be very wary. Many of these "light" snack chips contain Olestra, a fat substitute marketed under the brand name Olean. This synthetic fat is not absorbed by your body (instead it goes right through it), so it can cause diarrhea, loose stools, abdominal cramps and flatulence, along with other effects. Further, olestra reduces your body's ability to absorb beneficial fat-soluble nutrients, including lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene.

While regular potato chips have their own issues as well, light potato chips are not an acceptable alternative. Try air popping some organic popcorn and adding some sea salt and spices for flavor instead.

Recommended Reading

The World's 8 Most Deceptive Foods: We Think They're Healthy, but Should Think Again

Those Who Don't Diet are Better at Improving Health Than Those Who Do Diet


New Scientist January 11, 2008

Science Blog July 27, 2007

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