Bethenny Frankel has an important message for people who want to eat healthy: Skip fat-free products. The Skinnygirl founder made the declaration on Monday’s episode of the FORTUNE Unfiltered with Aaron Task podcast while defending herself against people who criticize her weight.
“I do eat,” she says. “I don’t binge, I don’t self-loathe. But I love food, and I like good food. I don’t like fat-free crap.” Frankel also says she doesn’t recommend that other people eat fat-free products either.
“I promote eating a smaller amount of quality food, of full-calorie foods,” she says. “The word ‘diet’ has the word ‘die’ in it, and it’s a multi-billion dollar business because diets do not work. I eat pizza, I eat French fries—I just don’t binge.”
Registered dietitian nutritionist Beth Warren, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food, agrees that fat-free products aren’t really healthy. “If a food claims to be fat-free, that means it’s substituted with some other ingredients to try and maintain the texture, flavor, and stability,” she tells SELF. “Typically, it has more sugar and more chemical ingredients—in other words, no ‘real food.’”
While there are obviously some fat-free foods that are healthy, like fruits and vegetables, Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., CEO of NY Nutrition Group, tells SELF that fat-free products like ice cream, cakes, and salad dressings “are not the healthiest or most nutritious foods you can eat.” They can also be void of nutrition and contain empty calories, and loaded with sugar or sodium to enhance the flavor. “High-sugar foods can be even more unhealthy and dangerous in the diet as it can lead to poor energy levels, inflammation, and obesity,” Moskovitz says.
Warren agrees. “We want to eat as much whole foods as possible to help keep an anti-inflammatory diet,” she says. “Highly processed ingredients and too much sugar, typically what are substituted in fat-free foods, promote chronic inflammation.”
Not only are they not great for you, but Jessica Cording, a New York-based R.D., tells SELF that people tend to go overboard with fat-free products. “In my experience, I’ve found that clients who reach for fat-free versions of ice cream, chips, cheese, and the like end up eating way more of the substitute than if they’d just had a small serving of the real thing and enjoyed it, guilt-free,” she says.
As for Frankel’s comments about pizza and fries, Moskovitz agrees that it’s perfectly fine to have junk food—as long as it’s in moderation. “There is a time and a place for every food in your diet as long as it’s not excessive,” she says. Moskovitz typically recommends allowing yourself no more than 100 to 150 “free” calories per day that can be spent on anything you’re craving. “From chocolate to cookies, a little sugar and fat in your diet here and there won’t affect your health if consumed in moderation,” she says.
Cording agrees, but stresses that moderation is the key, which is easier for some people than others. “If you’re someone who can enjoy a slice of pizza once a week in the context of a healthy, well-balanced diet, great,” she says. “If that’s not you, that’s also OK. The key is to be honest with yourself about what is realistic for you. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you honor what works for you and your body.”
Warren advocates for having a treat once a week—and she does it, too. “I think it’s essential to be able to have the indulgence in a mindful way to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the long run,” she says.
Experts say the right amount to treat yourself ultimately depends on what works for you. If you find that a ratio (like 90 percent healthy foods, 10 percent junk) is easiest for you to stick with, go for it. If a once a week treat or calorie-counting is best, that’s fine, too. Just allow yourself to enjoy those indulgences when you have them and eat healthy otherwise. “You have to pick and choose your battles,” Moskovitz says.
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