Top 5 Unhealthy “Diet” Foods

There are some so-called foods which I really don’t think any of us should be eating, at least not on a regular basis.

And, I know for a fact there are lots of dietitians and other health care professionals out there who will wholeheartedly disagree with me on some of these foods.

However, I read a vast array of material, and try not to be overly swayed by one side or the other, and I simply cannot reconcile myself to the fact that certain foods are “safe” to consume regularly, despite what manufacturers tell me.

I find over and over again that foods peddled to dieters are consistently the most unhealthy items. If you are dieting, you may be of the opinion that you need to eat mostly diet products.

Well, I disagree… what you should be eating is whole, natural foods, that is, lots of vegetables, some fruits, lean meats, fish, dairy, unsalted nuts, and small amounts of wholegrains. That is what I call a healthy diet for weight loss.

If you’ve been going around the supermarket, checking labels for words like “diet,” “light,” and “low fat,” chances are you’ve been eating your fair share of unhealthy ingredients, in your attempt to lose weight. Let me give you a quick rundown of the worst offenders.

Top 5 Unhealthy Diet Foods

The best diet foods are whole, natural and colorful

1. Diet soda

I have to admit I don’t recommend any soft drinks on a regular basis, but diet drinks are the slightly worse, for different reasons, than regular soda.

Although diet drinks have fewer calories and less sugar, research suggests that they may actually prevent weight loss — the very opposite from what you’d expect to be happening.

Research suggests that people who drink diet sodas may actually gain weight instead of losing it. Researchers, from the University of Texas Health Science Center, found that those who drank two or more diet sodas per day had waist size increases that were six times greater than those who didn’t drink diet soda.

One possible reason for this is that people think they can eat more if they drink diet soda, and so overcompensate for the missing calories. Other studies have suggested the artificial sweeteners may be to blame.

Artificial sweeteners are actually thought by some to make you feel more hungry than natural sugar, so it’s best to avoid these ingredients, where possible.

I recommend smaller amounts of natural sugar over artificial sweeteners — just don’t go overboard with that either. Sugar contains around 16 calories per teaspoon, and can certainly affect your weight loss success, if you consume too much.

2. Light Salad Dressings

Try to get into the habit of checking the nutritional labels on any processed foods you are buying.

Perhaps, in an attempt to aid your weight loss, you have been purchasing products which state “light” on the label. For the most part, these do contain less fat and calories than a similar full fat dressing. However, light dressings are often very high in sugar (sometimes high in fructose corn syrup, too), and many contain artificial sweeteners.

The best option is to make your own salad dressing using fresh ingredients like lemon or lime juice, with olive oil, and seasoning. It’s delicious and much more healthy!

3. Smoothies

Smoothies have emerged over the last few years as a variable “health” food. However, they are not always good for you, and in many cases they are very high in calories, fat and sugar.

If you are having a smoothie, make sure it is filled with whole fruits and vegetables, reduced fat milk or plain yogurt, and skip common ingredients such as chocolate and syrups.

Smoothies are super easy to make at home, too. My favorite is to blend up a frozen banana, baby spinach leaves, raspberries, some milk, and a little natural yogurt — just remember a serving is pretty small, only 1 cup at a time.

4. Flavored Yogurt

Yogurt is a wonderful weight loss food. I recommend that you eat one cup of it every day. However, once again, the choice you make at the grocery store can be make or break.

Many of the flavored yogurt on the market are packed full with sugar and artificial sweeteners. Instead, go for a plain yogurt, which has live bacteria in there, too, and add your own fresh fruit at home, for extra sweetness and flavor.

Read my previous article on eating dairy products for weight lose.

5. Processed Diet Foods

The inner isles of the supermarket are chock-a-block with processed foods, which are aimed at the unassuming dieter. Again, you need to check the nutrition label on these foods, to find out if they really are as healthy as the front of pack claims them to be.

The best choice you can make are foods which have a short ingredient list, and relies on whole foods, rather than ingredients which you don’t recognize, and/or cannot pronounce.

What are some of the most unhealthy diet foods you’ve come across?

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

warrior two July 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Fat Free Cool Whip. The first time I did Weight Watchers, the goal was to figure out how to cram as much food as possible into your allotted points for the day, and an entire tub of FF Cool Whip, at that time, was only 2 points. I ate soooo much of that stuff, but it must be so bad for you, or at least devoid of any nutrients.


Jenn July 19, 2011 at 7:08 pm

My parents always eat Lean Cuisines for dinner and colleagues eat them for lunch at work. Are those meals good for you or are they filled with preservatives?


Margaret July 20, 2011 at 3:24 am

I was watching “The Dr.’s” and they talked about frozen “diet” dinners. The main thing you want to look out for is sodium content. They suggested nothing over 500mg. But yes, most are packed with preservatives.


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Melanie July 27, 2011 at 10:07 am

I’m not a big fan myself. They are full of preservatives, salt, and lots of unhealthy ingredients. I know they can be handy from time to time, but I don’t think they are very satisfying either. Much better with a nice homemade bowl of soup or leftovers from the night before for lunch.


cathy in NZ July 19, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I have never been a fan of lite or diet – even some ‘trim’ products

What seems to happen in the manufacture is they ‘lose’ some of the ‘smooth goodness’ – things feel a lot less like the real thing

I would prefer to eat the ‘real thing’ but less of it…so Less if More Status

Right now I’m working on a different type of food intake which is so varied it’s quite fun/funny for me…I do still eat/drink those things I shouldn’t in the Portions I shouldn’t BUT I do it as a treat…

I’m ‘relearning’ how to bake, cook, other of the foods I think I would like to try and eat. Certain health issues inside my body have improved and I’m very pleased…

I’ve tried the diet/lite route at times but have abandoned that due to taste. Along with Less is More I believe flavour without having to add the flavour through some other way is better

HOpe this makes sense


Melanie July 27, 2011 at 10:12 am

Hi Cathy,
Yes, I understand exactly what you mean. I agree, too.


cathy in NZ August 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I have run into a major problem with the new ‘diet’ – in my attempt to bake tasty and moreish loaves for a nice pick-me-up snack in the afternoon – I have finally discovered why I am sometimes plagued with serious gut ache

I’ve a food intolerance to suphites! It was not nice when the dried fruit loaves caught up with my system. Even though I knew I had a bit of a problem with apricots, I had used a substitute…

Now I realise the intolerance is linked to preservatives as well so I’m slowly but surely eliminating what doesn’t sit well with me until I can re-introduce certain items…

It took nearly 2 wks to recovered from the major attack.

In the process I did a lot of reading and could see a number of other things that occurred during the new revamped ‘diet’ intake so I’m rectifying that as well – smaller & more meals to make sure the system is working and not just empty – then full!

It doesn’t mean that I have given up on that moreish snack it just means I have had to rethink it…and looking at packaging of certain everyday items will mean I might have to make a different choice…

One big problem is yoghurt which I believe is beneficial and once I had finished the current tub, I realised that too was making ‘bad vibes’ in the system as well. Not sure if it’s possible to buy fresh yoghurt anywhere at a price that will suit my budget. Possibly I could make it but I wouldn’t want more than a couple of tablespoons per day…

Lots of things to nut out but I will get there…


Melanie August 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Hi Cathy,
It’s good that you’ve been able to work out what was affecting you like that. I wonder would your loaves work using fresh fruit instead? With the yogurt, you could definitely make a small amount to suit yourself. It’s really not that much trouble. You just need to boil the milk, let it cool a little, then add a small amount of natural bio yogurt, and leave overnight to culture.


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Taleen July 20, 2011 at 2:42 am

Wonderful article Mel.

Many people, admittedly like myself, are so caught up on perfecting their knowledge of calories and fat, that they obliviously (or otherwise) ignore the vast list of other nutritional properties and benefits. Being in Korea can make it hard to be fully aware of the artificial sweeteners and so on in yoghurts and other packages goods. That is why whole foods are the best bet. We are also thinking of investing in a blender so we can expand our diets with whole ingredients,

As Jamie Oliver says, if the food label reads like a science experiment, stay away. If it reads like your grandmas pantry, go for it (and, in my opinion, that doesn’t always mean ‘health’ or ‘diet’ foods, but stretches to those nice treats and cakes from time to time too). :)


Melanie July 27, 2011 at 10:12 am

Wonderfully put, Taleen. I love JO’s little saying and quirks, lol He rocks!!


TK July 22, 2011 at 12:30 am

I am with Taleen & her comment re Jamie Oliver – we need to all pay so much more attention to what is written in the small print on the back of the products we buy rather than the glitz & glam selling tools on the front – I am becoming even more pedantic re food additives as I get older – regardless of weightloss options, we need to be mindful for our over all health’s sake. Thankyou Melanie for honest writing that keeps it real!!! We need this in an information overload world. TK xx


Jenna@Yogurt Everyday July 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

We’ve been making our own homemade yogurt so we know it only contains milk and cultures. It tastes great and we use for a sour cream and mayonnaise substitute. You are so right, most of the yogurt brands on the shelf are not healthy, especially the ones marketed towards children. Some of those brands have more sugar than a can of soda and more artificial color than candy.


Melanie August 4, 2011 at 9:55 am

Agreed Jenna. I see people giving their tiny baby those little yogurts all the time, probably thinking they are doing a good thing! The thing is, they will eat and love natural yogurt if that is all you give them — my little girl did, it was one of her first foods, and she still loves it.


Vicki August 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Totally agree that some ‘diet’ foods can really be false friends. Sometimes a SMALL amount of the regular food is better and more satisying. I make smoothies at home and they contain ONLY natural yoghurt and fruit. I find I don’t need other sweetners.

Totally agree about the processed diet foods too and I am fully with Taleen here. Look on the box – how many of the ingredients do you recognise as actual FOOD? If not many, avoid.

I make my own ready meals and have for years. A veggie chilli I often do is packed full of veg, tomatoes, spices and beans and frozen in individual portions, ready to defrost while I am at work and have later with rice, jacket potato or whatever. I have a very nice curry recipe that is full of flavour and creamy but low in fat, and is all natural unprocessed ingredients and freezes well. Ditto a tomato pasta sauce (the pasta doesn’t freeze well, so cook the pasta just before serving) and I sometimes do a veggie sherherds pie that I freeze in small portions. It is more time consuming than diet foods but if you can find a few hours spare at weekends to do a big cooking session….


Melanie August 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Vicki, you sound so organized, that it wonderful… I LOVE it!!! :-) Great ideas and recipe suggestions there, too.


Vicki August 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm

My mum always used to say that ‘very low fat’ versions of foods can be a lot higher in sugar as they use sweetners to try and make the product taste palatable without the fat. So, you replace low in fat but then go overboard on sugars and artificial sweetners, which is probably not better for your body


Melanie August 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I try to stay away from sweeteners wherever possible. I would far rather eat a smaller portion of full fat, than low fat junk food. Your mum is right!


Jaz August 28, 2011 at 5:52 am

Im guilty with numbers 2, 4 and 5! I’m still working on it though to find a subtitute that I can easily do on my tight schedule. *sigh!


Melanie September 6, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Hi Jaz,
Have you tried natural yogurt with a little fresh fruit and honey added, for example?


Ron October 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm

What goes around comes around. Remove our comment we
remove any thing to do with you, forever.


Melanie October 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm

What comment are you referring to, Ron?


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