Anything that encourages people to eat more whole foods is good—full stop. But when it comes to diet tricks, this one may be too simplistic
A diet with just one rule? It sounds like a dream come true, but in the case of the "no-label diet" it may be just that—a dream.
The No-Label Diet is as simple as it sounds: All you do is eat things that don't have nutritional labels. Why? Because whole foods like fruits, veggies, grains, and meats don't need a label since they only have a single ingredient. There's no need to interpret complicated ingredient lists or worry about things like preservatives and artificial additives. And, best of all, you can't be duped by food company trickery into thinking something is healthy when it's not. A broccoli is just a broccoli and an apple is just an apple. It's whole foods eating at it's finest!
We are huge fans of healthy eating and anything that makes eating a whole foods diet easier is a good thing in our book. But this is one diet hack that might have some unintended problems.
Let's start with the one-ingredient rule. On the surface that's a great idea as you know exactly what you're getting. Unfortunately there are plenty of single-ingredient foods that aren't so great for you. Take sugar—it's only got one ingredient (cane sugar or beet sugar). But while we won't say it's evil, none of us are in danger of not getting enough of it. Same goes for other single-ingredient treats like agave syrup, white flour, and salt. And then there are the ones that really are bad for you, like shortening. It's only got one ingredient—trans fats—but that's one of the absolute unhealthiest foods you can eat. (Make sure you read up on the 5 Things You Need to Know About the New Nutrition Facts Label.)
The no-label diet may also be steering you away from legit healthy foods. Bob's Red Mill 10-Grain Hot Cereal, for instance, has ten ingredients... but they're all whole grains. And a healthy balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing is a blend of good-for-you ingredients like vinegar, olive oil, and spices that not only makes your greens tastier but can help your body absorb nutrients better.
Plus, nutrition labels give us a lot more information than just the ingredients in a product. Take portion sizes, for example. Many foods that are healthy in moderation become decidedly less so when you overeat them—and some are way too easy to overeat. (Looking at you, dark chocolate and red wine!) Labels also give us information about the nutrients in each food, like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Both brown and white rice, for instance, have just one ingredient, but a quick glance at the label shows that one is significantly better for you than the other.
Some may think we're nit-picking—obviously the no-label diet is a rule of thumb, not something carved in stone. And we definitely like anything that simplifies healthy eating and encourages more whole foods. We just worry this trick may be a little too simplistic. Food labels aren't good or bad; they're a tool to help you make better decisions—you just have to know how to read them right.