Whether it’s giveaway swag at a sports event or complimentary samples while you’re grocery shopping, receiving something free feels good. But can too much of a free thing be bad?
When it comes to weight loss, eating an unlimited amount of certain foods, even if they are deemed healthy, may not be the best way to reach your goal. If you’ve ever participated in a weight loss program, you may have heard of the term “free” foods, meaning you can eat as much of something as you want without counting it toward your point or calorie goals. But there may be a cost to eating an endless amount of these foods and there are reasons why understanding the nutrient makeup of any meal is essential to reach your weight loss aspirations successfully.
What makes “free” food, “free”?
“Free” food is based on a “nutrient vs. calorie” scale, meaning foods that are higher in nutrient value and lower in calories make the list. Nutritious foods high in fiber, like non-starchy vegetables, are a great choice because they can keep you feeling full longer with less calories and more nutrients.
Why are certain foods considered “free” foods?
Certain foods are considered “free” because they complement your weight loss goals. They allow you to get creative, especially in times of hunger, while minimizing excess calorie consumption without hindering your progress. Many times, you’ll see “free” foods consisting of primarily fruits and vegetables to pair with your main part of the meal, such as a protein. If a type of food is considered “free,” the idea is that you can have as much of it as you’d like.
It’s important to understand why not all “free” foods can be consumed without limit. Not all foods are created equal. While fruits and vegetables are healthy options, you’re paying a higher calorie cost for fruit than vegetables due to the sugar and carb content. A cup of pineapple is 80 calories and 17 grams of sugar and is comparable to starchier vegetables like corn (1 C. = 153 calories, 17g carb, 5g sugar) and has the same sugar content as a small handful (8 pieces) of jelly beans.1 If you were to have a cup of a non-starchy vegetable like broccoli, you'd consume 30 calories, 6g carbs and 1g of sugar.2 Based on the math, you could have three times the amount of broccoli instead of half a cup of pineapple for the same number of calories and considerably less sugar. Not only would the larger quantity of broccoli keep you full longer because of the fiber content, but it would also be void of the high sugar content that can lead to spikes and falls in blood sugar.3
Another example, fresh dates, while an excellent source of vitamins and fiber contain a high calorie content. Eating approximately four medium-sized dates can pack 277 calories – not exactly something you want to eat in excess. When reviewing a list of foods, whether they seem healthy or not, it’s important to examine the nutritional breakdown to ensure you’re making the best decision.
Why moderation is key, even when it comes to “free” foods
You can enjoy “free” foods, but it’s important to keep in mind that moderation is key to achieve optimal weight loss. Additionally, make sure to consider the type of foods you choose to add to your daily routine, as it can make a difference in reaching your goal.
Jenny Craig provides a delicious menu that supports optimal weight loss and is designed to be nutritionally balanced at each calorie level. Variety is the spice of life, so we provide a list of Fresh & Free Additions that provide members with options to incorporate additional foods into their menu while supporting weight loss. Our list has been scientifically designed to include nutritionally dense foods and highlights the differences between foods that are best consumed in moderation (our “limited” foods) versus foods that are “free” which won’t hinder weight loss (our “free” foods).
Jenny Craig offers a variety of chef-crafted menu plans created to support weight loss and fit your lifestyle. Find your menu plan today!
 Calorie content according to http://www.calorieking.com/
 Calorie content according to http://www.calorieking.com/
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple.
Reviewed by: Monica Ropar, Nutritionist
Monica has over 15 years of experience with Jenny Craig, as an expert nutrition and program resource. She develops content, training, tools and strategies for the program to support clients throughout their weight loss journey, and offers inspiration, weight loss tips, lifestyle strategies and motivation. Monica holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Dietetics and Exercise, Fitness & Health from Purdue University and continues to stay current on weight management research, consumer trends and healthcare developments.
Favorite healthy snack: raw veggie sticks with homemade hummus.
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and fact-checked by Monica Ropar, Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig