If you see a packaged food or drink labeled “skinny,” resist the urge to fall for it; most nutritionists say it’s just a clever marketing trick.
Food items marketed as skinny are often highly processed, and while they might be lower in calories than another option, that doesn’t always make them a healthier choice. “I am immediately wary of foods that have the word skinny in the title,” says Kylie Deppen, a certified health coach and nutrition expert based in New York. “The problem with most skinny, low-fat, low-sugar, diet-like food products is that they are not real food,” says Stephanie Middleberg, a nutritionist and health and wellness expert. “They contain more chemicals than real food, chemicals that adversely affect our metabolism, making you gain weight, feel bloated and lethargic.” Here are examples of products that aren’t as healthy as their “skinny” labels may lead you to believe.
1. Skinnygirl Margarita
The search for a truly low-calorie cocktail is like a search for the holy grail. But this drink doesn’t qualify as healthy: It contains traces of sodium benzoate, a chemical preservative that studies show can be toxic when mixed with certain acids, including Vitamin C. So, if you mix some lemon or lime into your Skinnygirl, you could accidentally form a small amount of a toxic compound that’s tied to leukemia and cancer. (Whole Foods stopped selling the drink when it learned about the preservative.)
2. Skinny Water
Just in case plain-old water isn’t low-cal enough, you can now buy Skinny Water, an artificially sweetened beverage that includes ingredients like acesulfame potassium, the same additive used in Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi. “The manufacturer’s safety studies of acesulfame-potassium conducted in rats in the 1970s were of mediocre quality, but suggested the ingredient might cause cancer,” says the Center for Science in the Public Interest on its website, recommending that all consumers avoid the additive. “It’s especially ironic as pure water couldn’t be skinnier!” Middleberg says. “I would not recommend this product.”
3. Skinny Buns
Like many other foods marketed to dieters, Skinny Buns has a lengthy list of ingredients that are hard to pronounce. Included on that list is azodicarbonamide, aka the Subway yoga mat chemical, a dough softener often used in the making of yoga mats and sneaker soles. Subway announced in April that its bread would no longer be made with the chemical following a petition launched on FoodBabe.com.
4. Skinny Cow Ice Cream
Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches are slightly lower in calories than traditional ice cream sandwiches (there are 150 calories in Skinny Cow versus 160 calories in a brand like Blue Bunny), but they’re also smaller. And while they have less than half the fat, they still have nearly as much sugar and many artificial ingredients. “This is not health food,” says Deppen. “I advise my clients to have a small portion of what they are actually craving and move on, rather than keeping low-fat ‘knockoffs’ around the house.”
5. Hi I’m Skinny Sticks
These sticks list more corn and rice than actual sweet potato among their ingredients, and while they are lower in calories than their conventional counterpart (120 calories per serving versus 160 in Utz’s Shoestring Potato Stix), that doesn’t make them good for you. “Most people will assume that these are made from actual sweet potatoes and that they are a health food,” says Deppen. “In reality, sweet potatoes are just one of many ingredients along with added sugar, salt, and oil.” (The Utz sticks, meanwhile, have only three: potatoes, cottonseed oil, and salt.) “Bottom line,” says Deppen, “these snacks will not make you skinny.”
6. Skinny Cheese
This fat-free cheese contains more than twice the number of ingredients than traditional cheddar because of additives used to mimic attributes of fat. Sodium citrate, for example, allows the cheese to melt and locust bean gum can give it the creamy texture people expect from cheese. But the additive that concerns Deppen the most, she says, is nonfat milk powder. “The proteins in powdered milk are so denatured that they are unrecognizable by the body and can contribute to inflammation,” Deppen says. The nutritionist tells her clients that a better choice is to have a smaller portion of the full-fat food. “Besides being more satisfied with the ‘real thing’ our bodies thrive on healthy fats.”
7. Skinnygirl Stevia Extract
Stevia itself is derived from a plant and while the FDA has approved its refined version for use in food, CSPI and UCLA toxicologists have called for more testing. FoodBabe.com recommends only consuming “whole leaf stevia” and not the extract found in processed foods. This Skinnygirl product contains the refined version and other processed and artificial ingredients including sodium benzoate, the same chemical that got the brand’s margarita removed from Whole Foods.
8. My Skinny White Basmati Rice
Kudos for having just one ingredient, but this is literally just rice. There is nothing extra skinny beyond the label on the bag. And white basmati isn’t even the healthiest member of the rice family. “I prefer brown or wild rice for the additional fiber and protein over white rice,” says Middleberg. Besides having more nutrients than the white version, brown basmati is actually slightly less caloric as well.
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