Are Any "Diet" Foods Better Than The Regular Product?

Sugar-free, reduced fat, low-sodium...do any of these modified products live up to their original counterparts?

Here at The Takeout, we're not big fans of diet culture. We don't think the word "guilt" belongs anywhere near food, and we believe you should enjoy what you like when you like it. However, that's never going to stop us from tasting alternate versions of products out of our own curiosity, whether it's a sugar-free version of a beverage, a baked version of potato chips, or otherwise modified candies and cookies. As it turns out, some of those products can taste pretty good—even better than the original. We discuss our favorite alternatives to popular grocery store products.


I’ll take the Spam Lite, please

Man, I love Spam in pretty much everything you can put it in. I've eaten it cold out of the can (don't judge me), fried up on a sandwich, on pizza with pineapple, in Spam musubi, fried rice, and in ramen. I particularly like it with any form of eggs. But if you're a Spam enthusiast like me, you'll know that there's one quality about it that's a huge detractor: it's a salt bomb. It's also pretty greasy too, so when I'm cooking with it, I take that into serious consideration.

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Because of this, when I use Spam as an ingredient in a dish with lots of other components, I always grab Spam Lite. It has 50% less fat than the original version and 25% less sodium, which means I can control the balance in the rest of the dish without the whole dish toppling over into heavy oblivion. What's pretty remarkable is that you're not sacrificing a ton of flavor that way, too, it's still undeniably Spam. Just because there's less salt in it doesn't mean it's not still salty, either.

But, and this is a big but, if I'm just pan-frying the stuff to eat with some eggs for breakfast, I go for the fully-leaded stuff. It does marvels for a hangover. —Dennis Lee, staff writer

Bury me under a mountain of Crystal Light powder

Crystal Light is one of those obnoxious products marketed to Women On The Go. It's a line of ultra-low-calorie beverage powders (women hate calories!!!), and the commercials usually involve a busy mom or high-powered lady executive downing it before engaging in some sort of rapid feminine activity like driving or writing on a legal pad.

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Bad ads aside, I'm disgustingly loyal to Crystal Light Pomegranate Lemonade. It tastes like a damn sno-cone, but doesn't send me crashing like juice or soda because it's so low in sugar. Of course, it's full of artificial sweeteners, which will make you fart. I repeat: Crystal Light. Will. Make. You. Fart. I'm farting right now. Bear that in mind.—Lillian Stone, staff writer

Vitamins and hydration, hold the sugar

I know there's some debate over just how "healthy" Vitaminwater is in the first place, but that's not actually why I drink it. When I first started drinking the zero sugar version of the brand, I figured hydration and not contributing to my daily sugar intake couldn't hurt. Turns out, the sugarless drink, Vitaminwater Zero, tastes better than the original. I even got my mom hooked on the stuff. Trying the original sugar-packed version now, I realize it's way too sweet. Hard to finish a bottle at all.

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Even better than that, for the Costco devotees, buying the Kirkland brand, VitaRain, is cheaper and just as good. We're always told to drink more water; sometimes you just need a little flavor in it. Reach for the zero-sugar lemonade flavor and you'll thank me later. —Angela L. Pagán, staff writer

Reduced Fat Wheat Thins are God’s gift to dip

I only ever want to celebrate what a good amount of fat can bring to any dish. You'll never hear me condemn the presence of fat. But nine times out of ten, a cracker is more a utility player than the main event, so it doesn't have to be bursting with flavor. Reduced Fat Wheat Thins are superior to classic Original in almost every way: they're much sturdier, with zero crumbling, and they can hold firm as you scoop up even the thickest, most rotisserie-chicken-loaded dip the Midwest can throw at you. They also taste saltier, since salt is one of the few flavors the cracker has left to offer once you trim the fatty nut flavors away. It's a nicely straightforward dip delivery mechanism, which should honestly be written right on the front of the box. —Marnie Shure, editor in chief

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I worship at the altar of Diet Coke

Diet Coke is not just a drink, it is a lifestyle. As a Diet Coke lover, I'm here to say that you're either with us or against us. There's a crispness, a lightness, and, yes, a sort of unexplainable possibly chemical taste that cannot be matched. And it should be stressed: This is in no way a healthy food as some "diet" foods claim to be. We all know that soda is bad for us, but not every sparkling beverage I throw down my gullet can be a La Croix. When I want to indulge, Diet Coke is there for me. Get out of here with your thick, syrupy, cavity-inducing regular Coca-Cola, and toss me a slick silver can of the good stuff on your way out the door. —Brianna Wellen, associate editor

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The only frozen pizza I acknowledge is Banza

Earlier this year I ate a ridiculous amount of "healthy" frozen pizza for the sake of journalism, and a lot of them were borderline inedible. The good news is that there's a surprising amount of very good healthy-ish frozen pizza out there to be devoured, and one brand won my heart in such totality, I now prefer it to all other frozen pizzas: Banza Pizza. This product features a chickpea-based crust rich with olive oil, plus it's high in fiber, high in protein, low in net carbs, and gluten-free. It's way more flavorful than 90% of what you'll find in the freezer aisle. —Allison Robicelli, staff writer

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