01.What you need to know
The choices you make at the supermarket can have a huge impact on the type and quantity of kilojoules you consume. There are plenty of brands pitched at people trying to lose weight, so we've scanned the supermarket shelves for diet brands and take a look at:
Coles Simply Less is a new range of 90 products aimed at the “health conscious” that won’t “hurt the hips, or the hip pocket”. It joins established brands McCain Healthy Choice, which has more than 30 products, and Lean Cuisine’s 35-plus meals.Weight Watchers – with a whopping 230 supermarket products – has teamed up with brands such as cheese maker Bega to market products with “Approved by Weight Watchers” and its “Points” on the packaging.
Although these brands don’t use the words “diet” or “weight loss”, their packaging does display terms such as “guilt-free”, “lean”, “balanced”, “healthy”, “less” and “stay in shape”, which are likely to pique the interest of dieters. There is an emphasis on fat content, kilojoule counts or, in the case of Weight Watchers, the points value foods carry.
The good news
Many diet products tend to be highly processed, salty, sugary treat foods with little nutritional value. From jams and biscuits to salad dressings, they’re foods you’d assume a dieter should avoid, even with reduced kilojoules. So do these products have a useful role as part of a balanced diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean meat and low-fat dairy?
“Diet foods can provide a less harmful alternative for people who are dedicated to losing weight, particularly if they’re looking for a treat,” argues Professor John Funder, executive chair of Obesity Australia. There’s good data, he says, to show that if people know upfront how many kilojoules they’re eating, they can end up eating about 200kJ fewer across a day.
The bad news
Nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan agrees that diet foods can “hold your hand” while you’re trying to lose weight, but she believes they can also lull dieters into a false sense of security. “People may think, ‘I’ve eaten something low kilojoule, so I’ve got some credits to eat something extra’, and they end up overeating,” she says. “Strict kilojoule counting is not always a practical, healthy option, and women in particular can be obsessive about it – and this can be in addition to a poor body image and the habit of swinging between loving and hating food.”
Choosing foods purely based on their kilojoule content doesn’t take into consideration the nutrients present in the food. A low-fat rice cracker may have fewer kilojoules than a handful of nuts, but the latter is a better choice nutritionally.
McMillan prefers what she calls “kilojoule awareness”. By all means check the nutrition panel of a product for the kilojoules and see how it fits into your daily intake, she advises, but focusing obsessively on a rigid kilojoule-controlled diet doesn’t help people learn how to respond to hunger signals or make consistently healthy food choices.