Stroll down any aisle at the grocery store, and you’re bound to find packages labeled as “reduced fat,” “sugar free,” “low carb” and so on. Eating modified versions of your favorite foods can help you feel like you’re not quite so restricted when you’re dieting, but be careful: Many of these “diet” foods can actually lead to weight gain and increased belly fat, if you’re not careful. Always talk with your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
Low-Fat and Fat-Free Foods
A 2006 evaluation of three related studies published in the “Journal of Marketing Research” revealed that people typically eat up to 50 percent more of a food if it’s labeled as low-fat, or “reduced fat.” A low-fat label also increases the average person’s perception of an appropriate serving size by 25 percent. According to Marion Nestle, Chair of the Nutrition Department at New York University, foods that are reduced in fat often have just as many calories as the original versions because extra sugars are added to keep products tasty. This means that eating more of a low-fat food can cause you to consume even more calories, resulting in weight gain that can contribute to abdominal fat.
Sugar-free products are another trap that can sabotage your efforts to burn off belly fat. Candies, cookies and other sweet treats are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, but that doesn’t mean the products are necessarily low in calories. Like foods with reduced-fat content, sugar-free products tend to have the same amount of calories as their full-sugar counterparts; however, the sugar-free label misleads people into believing they can consume more without sabotaging their diets. The result: a calorie surplus that results in weight gain. Fake sweeteners can also trick your body into thinking that it’s receiving sugar, prompting it to release insulin, which encourages your body to store abdominal fat.
Although high-protein, low-carb diets are all the rage, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that low-carb dieters are more likely to be overweight or obese. The study revealed that low-carb eaters consumed more calories than those who ate a higher-carb diet. Diet foods that have a reduced carbohydrate content often have higher fat content and contain as many, if not more, calories than regular versions of the same foods. This means that substituting low-carb foods can actually cause you to consume more calories. If you’re likely to store fat around your waist, a calorie surplus could increase belly fat.
Foods marketed as diet products aren’t the only culprits of diet disasters. Often, products that are perceived as healthy and nutritious can be calorie traps. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them, but it does mean you should use moderation to avoid gobbling down a waistline-expanding calorie surplus. A few examples of such foods include sushi, granola, dried fruit, restaurant salads, sandwich wraps and nuts.