Diet Foods Bad for Your Diet

Food manufacturers know you're interested in healthy low-fat, low-cal products. And many are offering delicious new choices that are true to their claims. But other products, for all their promises of "multigrain goodness" and "baked wholesomeness," are actually worse than their traditional greasy cousins. It's not that these selections are so terrible -- many can be a perfectly fine part of your diet. But you shouldn't think you're saving calories or fat grams -- or getting extra nutritional benefits.
Note: This article appeared in the October 1999 issue of Good Housekeeping and was current as of that date.

Watch for Sugar
Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt sounds like a product that delivers, well, fruit. But a container of Colombo or Breyers Strawberry Fruit On The Bottom Yogurt has about 210 sugar-loaded calories -- and not a smidgen of the vitamin C or fiber you might expect from a "fruit" product. (Maybe they should call it jam-on-the-bottom?) Better bet: eight ounces of plain yogurt, a couple of fresh strawberries -- for 10 calories, with 28 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C -- and a teaspoon of honey. Total: about 130 calories and a lot less sugar.

Cutting Salt
 Lemon-pepper seasoning blends (and lemon-and-herb and garlic-pepper products) are popular picks for people trying to cut back on salt, but some contain even more sodium than those with the word salt in their names. For example, McCormick Lemon & Herb Seasoning has 180 milligrams (mg) of sodium per 1/4 teaspoon, while an equal amount of the company's Lemon Pepper Seasoning Salt has 120 mg. You'll find Nutrition Facts panels on some blends, but because the labels on spice jars are so small, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't require that the info appear. Still, all products include an ingredient list -- so read the fine print to find out if salt is included, and how high up on the list it is.

Fruit-juice spritzers (sparkling water with a touch of fruit juice) should be low-cal, but a beverage like After The Fall Hawaiian Mango Spritzer or R.W. Knudsen Family Cranberry Spritzer has at least as many calories as a can of Coke (140) and may contain up to 36 percent more (190). Nor are these fruit juices a significant source of any vitamin.

"All Natural." Oh, Really?
"All natural" cookies are still cookies, even if their labels advertise healthy ingredients. Frookie Dream Creams -- cream-filled wafers made with yogurt -- are no better than the sugar wafers you ate as a child. A serving of either wafer packs about 140 calories, but the Dream Creams have almost 35 percent more fat. As for the yogurt, dream on -- all you get is a little nonfat yogurt powder in the sweet filling.

 Oatmeal products ought to be a smart bet, because fiber-rich oats are good for the heart. Yet in many cases (Post Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal, Pepperidge Farm Old Fashioned Oatmeal Bread, and Nabisco Family Favorites Oatmeal Cookies, to name a few), oats are listed third or fourth in the ingredient list and fiber content is one gram or less. Ditto for many bran muffins: Honey Raisin Bran Fat Free Gourmet Muffins from the Uncle Noname Cookie Company, for example, contain a solitary gram of fiber per serving -- the same as a slice of white bread.

Fruit as Candy
Fruit leather may be 100 percent fruit, but nutritionally it's closer to candy. A 1/2-ounce serving of Stretch Island's Rare Raspberry flavor has 45 calories -- about the same as 3/4 cup of fresh raspberries. But while the fresh fruit also supplies 40 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C and more than six grams of fiber, the fruit leather contains a mere two percent of the DV for C and only one gram of fiber.

Snack Bars
Multigrain cereal bars with fruit (such as Entenmann's Multi-Grain Cereal Bars with raspberries) appear to be a wholesome, timesaving (and portable) alternative to a bowl of cold cereal with bananas or berries. But the two are far from equal: With an average of 140 calories, three grams of fat, and minimal fiber, a fruit-and-cereal bar is closer to half an English muffin smeared with a little margarine and a lot of jam than it is to a helping of whole-grain cereal with fruit and milk -- which also supplies fiber, calcium, and other nutrients.

Vegetable Crackers
Vegetable crackers may help you feel better about snacking, but they won't get you a single mouthful closer to the five-a-day fruit-and-vegetable goal. The trace amount of "vegetables" in the crackers -- usually a dehydrated veggie blend -- is way down on the ingredient list.

Low-Fat Cheeses
Part-skim and soy cheeses are not always wise substitutes for full-fat wedges. Jarlsberg, which is part-skim, packs 100 calories and eight fat grams per ounce, about the same as whole-milk cheeses like Gouda, Muenster, or Swiss. And soy cheeses, while usually lower in fat, can cheat you out of calcium. A one-ounce slice of regular Cheddar or American cheese supplies 175 to 205 mg of this bone-building mineral, but soy alternatives, unless they're fortified, offer little or none.

Turkey and Chicken
Turkey or chicken franks sound lean, but you may be losing more taste than fat. A Jennie-O Jumbo Turkey Frank (Hormel) has 130 calories and 11 fat grams; Gwaltney Great Dogs Chicken Franks, 140 calories and 10 fat grams each. A Boar's Head Brand Beef Frankfurter -- which is only a little smaller (1.6 ounces instead of two ounces) -- has just 120 calories and 11 fat grams. Even "lower-fat" hot dogs aren't always so skinny. The Gwaltney version, made from chicken and pork, has 160 calories and 12 grams of fat.

Coffee Drinks
Coffee drinks are innocent compared to milk shakes -- if you keep them simple. A cup of unsweetened cappuccino made with skim milk probably won't tally up more than 50 calories, but a lot of coffee-bar beverages are like desserts in a cup. A 9.5-ounce bottle of Starbucks Frappuccino has 190 calories -- about the same as a cup of reduced-fat chocolate milk. And the "grande" (16-ounce) Caff-- Mocha -- made with espresso, cocoa, steamed milk, and a cap of whipped cream --  has 420 calories and 23 grams of fat, about what you would get from two marble-frosted Dunkin' Donuts.

Air-popped popcorn can be full of more than hot air. Though certain brands really are fat-free, others are sprayed with fat after popping. Bachman Air Popped Popcorn has an astonishing 170 calories and 11 fat grams per ounce (vegetable oil is the second ingredient). You'd actually save calories by snacking on potato chips instead (150 calories, 10 grams of fat per ounce). Baked connotes the opposite of fried, but think about it -- a lot of the most fattening things are baked, from brownies to chocolate-chip cookies. Some baked foods are truly low-fat, but even bagel chips can have up to six fat grams per serving. Be wary of crackers too. Most are baked; it's really a question of whether they're generously "flavored" with fat before they go in the oven.

Dry-roasted nuts have about the same calories and fat as oil-roasted ones, ranging from 163 calories and 13 grams fat in one ounce of cashews to 204 calories and 22 grams of fat in macadamias. This also holds true for raw (unroasted) nuts.

Ice Cream and Yogurt
Low-fat ice cream and frozen yogurt (depending on the brand and flavor) may have more calories than the full-fat versions. Breyers All Natural Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream, for example, has a cool 150 calories per half-cup, while Ben & Jerry's Lowfat Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt contains 170 calories for the same small scoop. And many Ben & Jerry's Lowfat Ice Cream flavors are even higher, with as many as 190 calories per half-cup. Although regular ice cream does have more fat, it doesn't have to blow your diet -- many varieties have only four to six grams of fat and 100 to 150 calories per serving.

Fat free?
 Fat-free Parmesan cheese doesn't save you much fat -- but it will cost you big time on calcium. Regular Kraft Parmesan Cheese sprinkles on 1.5 fat grams per two-teaspoon serving, along with 60 mg of calcium. The fat-free variety? The same 20 calories but no calcium -- or taste.
No-sugar-added baked goods seem like a sweet deal for fans of the Sugarbusters diet. But the "guilt-free" pumpkin pie we found in a suburban supermarket bake shop had 340 calories per slice. Mrs. Smith's Hearty Pumpkin Pie (frozen) has only 240 calories per serving!
Fat-free salad toppings are no great shakes -- a serving of six Pepperidge Farm Fat Free Spicy Italian Big & Crunchy Croutons adds 30 calories to your plate -- exactly the amount you'd get from the company's regular Big & Crunchy Croutons in Olive Oil & Garlic flavor (one gram fat). Zero-fat salad dressing may not be a bargain either: Kraft Free Creamy Italian has 60 calories (the same as Kraft Caesar Parmesan Vinaigrette, which tastes better). Try cutting calories, not taste -- Kraft Seven Seas 1/3 Less Fat Viva Italian Dressing has 45 calories per two tablespoons.

A four-ounce fat-free muffin from the grocery-store bake shop sounds like a real deal at 130 calories. But read the fine print and you'll see that the value is for half the muffin -- and who has ever been known to stop at that? Have you noticed how big bagels have grown? Each can equal up to five or six slices of bread, or some 360 to 400 calories. Go for a mini version or scoop out some of the dough inside.

Jumbo cookies like all-natural Monster Cookies (distributed by Tree of Life) are ample enough to feed a whole family's sweet tooth. A serving of the carob-chip variety (140 calories) is just a fifth of the cookie. Eat the whole thing and regret it an astonishing 700 calories and 35 fat grams later.

If beverages aren't in standard 12-ounce cans, read nutrition stats carefully. A 16-ounce container is two servings, and the calories listed are for eight ounces.

Please don't forget about drinking water... :-)

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