Diet food has become a term used to describe foods specific to a particular diet(s). Pre-packaged foods with the diet plan’s name on them have become a popular item. Food manufacturers, not wanting to miss out on a dollar, have joined in the game, also. “Diet” versions of most popular foods can be found on every grocery shelf. There are many forms of “diet” foods; such as “Low-fat”, “Fat-free”, “Sugar-free”, “Low-Carb”, “Low-calorie”, or even “(Fill in your diet plan) Approved Food.” So, what is a diet food really?
In reality, all foods are diet foods. Diet, by definition, is simply a way of eating. A person’s diet is what they eat on a regular basis. Anthropologists use diet patterns to study people around the world. A vegetarian diet means consuming no meats. One who eats only seafood would be on a seafood diet (no not the classic; See Food diet.). A person eating only foods commonly found in the Mediterranean area would be on a Mediterranean diet. Someone who only consumed liquids would be on a liquid diet. Foods become a tool when they are used to manipulate the body’s responses, such as weight loss.
Most low calorie foods today are processed food substitutes, often synthetic, making the food low-fat or fat-free, sugar-free, wheat- or gluten-free, or free of some other product deemed unhealthy by someone. Some diet foods are exactly like their non-diet counterparts with a simple substitution to lower the calorie and sugar content. A classic example is the use of artificial sweeteners in diet sodas. Another common substitution is the use of sugar and other sweeteners to improve the flavor in fat-free and low-fat foods. This leads to foods packed with empty calories (and often not much less than the original) but with less fat.
Many diet food companies use common tricks and sleight of hand to entice buyers to pick their product. Cutting portion size to reduce caloric content per serving is a common practice. An even sneakier approach used by some is the changing of the serving size on the package. This one gets a lot of people. A fat-free food package might list the serving size at 2 pieces equaling 20 calories while the regular version of the food lists 10 crackers as a serving for 100 calories. In this scenario, each unit only has ten calories but the lower serving size decreases the calorie content per serving so that it can be called a diet food. It is essential to read nutritional labels, don’t just trust the big “Fat-Free” or “Low Calorie” on the front of the package. Low fat and fat free foods are lower in fat but may contain more calories because of the added sugar. A big deception for many is the “No Sugar Added” claim. This claim leads many to believe that this is a low sugar food. However, sugar itself can claim “No Sugar Added” because extra sugar was not added in the processing, but it is surely high in sugar.