HomeHealthArchivesFeb 2004


No "Free" Lunch

Today's supermarket shelves look like a dieter's vision of heaven: fat-free cookies, cholesterol-free cereals, sugar-free candies.

Caveat emptor. With packaged foods as much as with anything, the word "free" should set off alarms, warns Health Journal. A careful reading of labels often shows that when something unhealthy is taken out, something else that's equally unhealthy is added, many times in greater amounts than normal. Fat-free foods, for instance, generally have more sugar. For those watching the scales, that sugar will put on the pounds as surely as fat will.

Avoiding sugar has its own pitfalls: Sugar-free foods make up for one lost sweetener with another. Often the replacement-fructose, barely malt, corn syrup, dextrose, even plain old fat-contributes as many calories as the sugar did.

Foods billed as cholesterol-free, such as many cereals, often replace the cholesterol with saturated fat from palm or coconut oil. That adds more fat than you might have gotten from the regular version of the food.

On the positive side, some "lite" deals really are as good as they look. Bread and milk, for instance, are both available in forms that actually have fewer calories and less fat, with little sacrifice in taste.

For most foods, though, the watchword is the same as always: moderation in all things, including portion.