Mmmmmm…. cellulose gum, salt, corn starch, and xanthan gum. Would you believe that these are the top 4 ingredients (aside from water) in the Creamy Whipped Peanut Spread from Walden Farms? Just where are the peanuts, you ask? Well, “natural roasted peanut flavouring” and “peanut extract” are #6 and #7 on the ingredient list, respectively. So what’s the angle here? Why on earth would someone *want* to eat faux peanut butter?
Walden Farms claims you can save “10,000 calories per month the Walden Way”, which translates ( hypothetically) to a 3 pound weight loss – all you have to do is substitute their no-calorie food items instead of the originals, like pasta sauce, salad dressing and mayonnaise. Aside from the fact that I don’t even want to know what no-calorie alfredo sauce (!) tastes like, do no-calorie foods really qualify as “food” and will they help, or potentially hinder, weight loss efforts?
In terms of actual nutrition, what are Walden Farms “food” items providing? Aside from sodium, absolutely nothing. What you do get are emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners and “flavours”. Truth be told, the ingredient list reads more like a chemistry lab manual than a food label.
While the majority of no-calorie options provided by Walden Farms, such as BBQ sauce, jam and marshmallow spread, are not exactly beacons of health food in their full-calorie-at-the-grocery-stores form, there is a growing body of research suggesting that fat-free and artificially sweetened foods may be doing more harm than good when it comes to battling the bulge. As No Baloney discussed in Low-Calorie = Weight Gain?, these low-calorie foods may actually interfere with your body’s ability to metabolize fats and sugars naturally found in real food and negatively affect satiety responses.
No Baloney’s Advice? To borrow (and adapt) a quote from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: “Eat food (real stuff containing actual nutrients aside from just sodium). Not too much. Mostly plants.”