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Body weight comes from calories, so when you eat or drink something with zero calories, you gain zero weight. Right?
Wrong. Shockingly wrong. In fact, with the exception of water, any zero-calorie food or beverage you consume can lead not to weight loss, but to weight gain.
How can this be? Our bodies are complicated and finely tuned instruments, and explaining how they work is no simpler than explaining Google’s algorithm. So the calories in/calories out view of weight loss misses a lot of the nuance. In fact, zero calorie foods cause us to gain weight in several ways, according to our crack researchers at Eat This, Not That! (who will continue to report out the story on EatThis.com):
They dampen your natural fat burners. The body burns a lot of calories trying to turn a pat of butter into a pat of you. But highly processed foods—which is what most zero calorie foods are—come so highly processed that they’re basically digested for you, so they don’t keep the body’s natural fat-burners firing.
They cause inflammation—and that causes weight gain. Introduce a bunch of chemicals into your digestive tract and you’re basically introducing an irritant. That can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients in food, and it calls the digestive system’s natural defenses into play, creating inflammation. Inflammation causes our fat genes to “turn on,” increasing belly fat. (Speaking of: To melt away your belly, check out the essential Daily Habits That Blast Belly Fat)
They mess up our ability to regulate what we eat. Here’s why: When you swallow that diet soda, the sweet taste makes your body anticipate the arrival of calories. And when the calories don’t show up, your body gets confused, and triggers your hunger response, sending you looking high and low for those missing calories—and often finding them in a snack bowl.
Here’s a run-down of some popular zero-calorie foods you might want to think twice about, and one that might actually help you lose weight. In the meantime, keep our indispensible guide to the 50 Best Snacks in America by your side for any afternoon hunger pangs.
Total Zero #1: Butter Sprays
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray claims to have zero calories. The ingredient list shows that it’s a mixture of soybean oil and water with thickeners, and artificial flavor enhancers. It also contains EDTA, which has been shown to interfere with nutrient absorption. But the real kicker is that this spray is only zero calories if you use 1 spray—Use 25 sprays and you’ve eaten 20 calories and 2 grams of fat. That means the whole bottle contains 904 calories and 90.4 grams of fat! Why would you bother with this fake-tasting spray when you could eat these Fatty Foods That Make You Skinny?
Related: 20 Shockingly Healthy Guilty Pleasure Foods
Total Zero #2: Walden Farms Products
Walden Farms offers a line of calorie-free dips, spreads, and sauces like peanut spread, chocolate syrup, marshmallow dip, pasta sauce, and mayo. Let’s take a look at the peanut dip for an example of what they consider preparing food “The Walden Way.” This peanut spread, meant to replace high-calorie peanut butter, contains water, vegetable fiber, salt, something called “natural fresh roasted peanut flavor,” and a bit of the artificial sweetener Splenda. In other words, this is not food. It’s artificial flavor, artificial sweetener, and salt. Imagine the confusion your body will be in when this hits your mouth and no calories are there to back it up. Skip these calorie-free sauces for a real food version, but read labels, or you’ll be dousing your food with a sneaky source of sugar.
Total Zero #3: Diet Soda
Regular soda is definitely not good for you, but you’re not doing your body any favors by choosing diet cola. One recent study from Johns Hopkins researchers found that people who drink diet beverages end up consuming more calories from food than people who drink regular soda or other sugary beverages. (For more cola shockers, click on our eye-popping Surprising Reasons to Finally Give Up Soda.)
AND NOW WE PRESENT…
…Total Hero! Zero Noodles
Now here’s something a little different—a winner in the no-cal foods section: Zero Noodles. These noodles are made from glucomannan fibre, which is made from a Japanese root plant called the Konjac plant. In other words, they’re actual food, not chemicals. The claim is that these noodles are a replacement for rice and pastas that provides bulk and satiation without the calories. And there have been quite a few studies showing that glucomannan fibre might actually aid in weight loss and reduce LDL cholesterol. This zero is a hero.
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