Don't freak out, but a lot of the so-called zero calorie foods you've been eating aren't actually zero calories.
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Here's a rule of thumb: If you can chew it, it's not zero calories! There aren't any magic foods or "negative calorie foods," and even packaging that claims what's inside is calorie-free is lying. Wait, what?
You see, food manufacturers are allowed to say something has "0" calories until it breaks the 5-calorie mark. If that sounds innocuous, think of it another way: Something like cooking spray—which has just a couple calories per tiny squirt, so is listed as 0 calories per serving—is more like 20 calories if you're dousing your pan every time you use it. Do that just five times a week for a year and that explains that extra pound (or more!) of flesh you have around your waist. Oh, and manufacturers are allowed to be up to 20 percent off with their calorie listings. You can guess which direction they tend to be off in...
Losing weight and optimizing your health is all about the knowledge to make the right choice. So, here's a look at so-called zero calorie foods that aren't actually zero calories. For more ways the wool may be pulled over your eyes, don't miss these 23 Scams and Sneaky Tricks at the Grocery Store.
1. Butter Sprays
Diet soda is one of the sneakiest zero calorie foods on the market today. "Consuming artificial sweeteners, like the ones in Diet Coke, trick your brain," Amer says. "They make you crave even more sweetness, increasing your intake for sugar-filled foods and drinks, which over time leads to weight gain." Not to mention that the artificial sweetener aspartame has been linked to cancer.
6. Sugar-Free Candies and Mints
"Items like Sugar-Free Ice Breakers contain a trivial amount of calories if you're looking at one piece. However, who actually consumes just one of these sweet things?" says Shirlee Rosen, RDN. "From personal experience, I know how hard it is to stop at just one! Although it may seem like less than 5 calories per piece is an insignificant amount, when you chow down on these mints like you would a bag of Skittles, they basically become equivalent to candy. And the calories add up. If you consume 10 mints a day, 7 days a week, that's about 350 extra calories per week. In ten weeks, that can cause you to gain one pound!" Discover these 32 Simple Ways to Lose More Weight to start melting your muffin top and undoing the damage.
7. Fat-Free Reddi Wip
Like many other so-called calorie-free products, this one has trace amounts of almost 5 calories for every two tablespoons—and we all know no one uses just two tablespoons!" cautions Rosen. "This product is made from real cream, which makes it clear that it can actually be very high in calories, depending on the amount consumed."
"Pickles are touted as a 'zero calorie' food since they are just cucumbers in salt water," says Whetzel. "But if you eat too many pickles, you may find yourself gaining weight, especially in the form of retained water from all the sodium." Whetzel also notes that many pickle brands contain added sugar and food coloring. "One dill pickle spear may have only 4 calories, but with about 300 milligrams of sodium per spear, you are well on your way to 25 percent of your daily value of sodium with two spears." (Psst! Need to undo a puffy tummy, stat? Nosh on these 42 Foods to Deflate Your Belly Bloat!)
Splenda is 600 times sweeter than table sugar, meaning you usually need just a little bit to achieve your desired sweetness. That said, unlike what the packaging says, it's not calorie-free—something that becomes very clear if you use it for baking. The first two ingredients in Splenda are dextrose and maltodextrin, which are carbohydrates that are not calorie-free. In fact, one cup of Splenda has 96 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates. Studies have also shown that Splenda may inhibit zinc and iodine from being absorbed, which are essential for proper thyroid function.
10. Starbucks Da Vinci Sugar-Free Syrups
Do you find yourself asking for a few extra "pumps" of sugar-free vanilla or hazelnut syrup in your skinny latte? These "zero-calorie" syrups are sweetened with sucralose (aka Splenda), which can add serious calories to your beverage when consumed in large amounts.
Plus, as mentioned earlier, artificial sweeteners trick the brain into thinking it's getting sugar. "But when the body notices that the actual sugar rush isn't happening, so you end up craving more sugar," says Whetzel. "The result? You will probably reach for a cookie or grab an extra sweet treat."
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11. Flavored Coffee like K-Cups
While coffee has little to no calories, K-cup flavored coffees reportedly do have around 4 calories per K-cup. That's not awful since you're likely only having one cup in total, but be mindful of any milk and sugar you're adding in, cautions Whetzel.
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Celery is often said to be a "negative calorie food," meaning that it takes more energy to digest than the food provides. But there is no such thing as negative calories. "While celery is definitely very low in calories, a 7-inch long stalk has about 6 calories and your body is not burning extra calories while consuming celery," says Maria A. Bella, MS, RD, CDN. "That said, like any other fibrous vegetable, you will feel fuller after consuming it." Check out the 20 Most Filling Fruits and Veggies—Ranked! for some nutritious and smart snacks that will help with your weight loss goals.
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