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Can the Latest Diet Trend Help You Lose Weight?

Persuasive food marketing affects our perception of health

By Caroline Leung Created: January 22, 2013 Last Updated: January 27, 2013
Related articles: Health » Environment & Health
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Instead of devoting valuable time trying to decipher the credibility of a health claim on a label or spending extra money on the latest food trend, plan your meals around fresh foods. (By Elena Schweitzer/Photos.com)

Instead of devoting valuable time trying to decipher the credibility of a health claim on a label or spending extra money on the latest food trend, plan your meals around fresh foods. (By Elena Schweitzer/Photos.com)

The excuses for indulging in holiday cookies, cakes, and comfort foods are over! The new year brings a fresh start and new focus on healthy eating and weight-loss goals.

There is a plethora of food products claiming to help you lose weight and fit into your skinny jeans: cereals “now made with whole grain” and gluten-free foods often misconstrued as healthier alternatives to their gluten-containing counterparts. Do these cleverly marketed health-food items really help you lose weight and become healthier?

Food companies have effectively marketed their food products to entice shoppers. Advertisements use persuasive marketing techniques that target dieters. For instance, a cereal company claims that replacing two of your usual meals with one serving of their cereal at each meal, will help you get a slimmer waist.

The potential weight loss is attributed to the dramatic decrease in calories rather than the actual nutritional value of the food product. Consuming one serving of cereal with skim milk, containing less than 200 calories instead of a typical breakfast of egg and cheese sandwich or cheeseburger and fries at lunch—which may very well be over 500 calories— would conceivably help you lose weight.

However, the quality of the cereal replacement meal is minimal at best. Without much protein and fiber, these cereal replacement meals lack the nutrition of a well-balanced meal.

A similar weight-loss misconception is the gluten-free diet. According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “There are no published reports showing that a gluten-free diet produces weight loss in those without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.”

However, the strategic marketing of gluten-free products has led to the perception that gluten-free foods are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. Celebrities have helped popularize a gluten-free diet by endorsing that this diet attributed to their weight loss.

What is gluten and is it really healthier to avoid it? Gluten is a type of protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, or rye. Those who benefit from a gluten-free diet are people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, or diarrhea are experienced with the ingestion of gluten-containing foods. In these cases, a gluten-free diet would help relieve gastrointestinal distress caused by celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

However, for those without celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there are consistent findings that consuming whole grains, which contain gluten, have health benefits. So keep eating your whole grains—whole-wheat breads, brown rice, and the like.

Start grocery shopping around the perimeter of the supermarket, selecting colorful fruits and vegetables such as vibrant red peppers, bagged spinach, or a pint of blueberries from the produce department.

With the constant barrage of ambiguous health claims and persuasive advertisements that food-marketing strategies have employed, how can we implement an effective diet that is both nutritious and easy to incorporate into any lifestyle?

Instead of devoting valuable time trying to decipher the credibility of a health claim on a label or spending extra money on the latest food trend, plan your meals around fresh foods.

Start grocery shopping around the perimeter of the supermarket, selecting colorful fruits and vegetables such as vibrant red peppers, bagged spinach, or a pint of blueberries from the produce department.

Chop up your vegetables and add them to a stir-fry for a simple way to use up your vegetables. Add a handful of berries and a sprinkle of walnuts for extra antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats. This will keep you full and satisfied.

Fresh produce is naturally high in vitamins and minerals and lower in calories than processed, packaged foods. This helps support weight loss while providing your body with essential nutrients. Begin a healthier new year by incorporating one simple change—adding more fresh produce to your grocery cart and replacing a pre-packaged food with fresh fruits and vegetables!

Caroline Leung has an avid curiosity about nutrition and wellness. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian after completing her dietetic internship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

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