Are guilt-free foods just as guilty?

Whenever I see an advertisement on tv for “guilt-free” foods or a recipe online for a “guilt-free” dessert, it seems I involuntarily roll my eyes. It isn’t going unnoticed.

So when the boy saw me roll my eyes yet again at the “guilt-free” claim on tv today he told me I should write a blog post about it.

He either did this because he is tired of hearing my rants about the topic or he wants me to inform my readers of the misleading topic of “guilt-free” eating. I think he was going for the latter reason of course.

These days we are seeing more and more “guilt-free” labels on foods packaging and advertisements, usually desserts and treats. What a great label to have! I’m sure you can all admit to feeling that little bit guilty at times when having that second double coated Tim Tam or slice of cream filled cake.

So why not pick up that “guilt-free” snack and enjoy it in peace? … Right?

Well this is not always the case.

“Guilt-free” fats

We tend to see the replacement of fats such as butter, margarine or olive oil with alternatives that claim to be healthier such as coconut oil. But don’t be fooled by coconut oil.

It has been shown that plant-based oils (e.g. olive oil) have more health-promoting qualities than animal-based oils (e.g. butter) as they are higher in unsaturated fats. But the exception to this rule is coconut oil – while coconut oil  does not come from an animal, it is a saturated fat just like those animal-based fats.

As you can see in the table below, coconut oil has roughly the same amount of energy (kilojoules/calories) as butter. It also has slightly higher levels of total and saturated fat per 100g.

  Coconut oil(100g) Butter(100g)
Energy 3500kJ 3035kJ
Total fat 100g 82g
Saturated fat 92g 54g

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the taste of coconut oil at times on roasted vegetables or to grease the pan when cooking pancakes. But I don’t include coconut oil in my cooking in order to have a guilt-free food.

At the end of the day, fat is fat. Yes there are some fats that are better for our health. But just be aware that if you are watching your weight, the same amount of energy is going into your body when you eat any kind of fat or oil. So replacing the butter or oil in our baked cake with something like coconut oil is not really making it healthier for us and it is definitely not going to make us magically lose weight.

“Guilt-free” sugars

The same goes for changing up sugar products.

White sugar. Raw sugar. Coconut sugar. Honey. Rice malt syrup. Maple syrup. Coconut syrup. Agave syrup. Molasses. There are so many types of sweeteners available right now.

I am personally a fan of alternative sweeteners such as coconut syrup, coconut sugar and agave syrup as they are a great addition to some of my cooking experiments because they have such interesting, sweet, caramel-like flavours.

However, I am fully aware that swapping white sugar, honey or maple syrup for any of the alternative sweeteners (e.g. agave, coconut, rice malt, molasses) will not make the product “healthier”.

Whichever product you choose, be aware that they all have very similar energy and sugar contents.

“Guilt-free” grains

Many people are under the impression that we should feel guilty when eating gluten because in order for something to be guilt-free it must be gluten-free. This is not the case at all.

While some sub-groups, such as those with Coeliac Disease, should be avoiding gluten, most of the world’s population have no issues ingesting the protein that is found in many grain or cereal products. And there is most definitely no reason at all to feel guilty when consuming gluten-containing food products.

Many people tend to replace normal wheat flour with almond meal or coconut flour because they are gluten-free. Now I am a fan of the nutty flavour and high protein content that almond meal can add to a baking session. However, be aware that choosing a flour to cook with just because it is gluten-free, does not make it “guilt-free”.


So enjoy the foods you eat. Enjoy a range of healthy foods.

But don’t feel guilty about the small amounts of unhealthier foods you eat. When making these treats or desserts, it is up to you how you go about choosing the sweeteners, fats and grains you include in your cooking. But at the end of the day be aware that not all alternatives provide health-promoting qualities, and most sweetener and fat alternatives contain similar energy amounts.

Enjoy them all in moderation.

Rather than swapping the ingredients for expensive alternatives, reduce the overall amount of treats you eat and in turn you will naturally reduce your guilt.

– Jenna

A favourite dessert of mine. Made with semolina (contains gluten), sugar syrup (white sugar) and butter (saturated fat). But it's ok because every now and then, and in small amounts is completely fine!

A favourite homemade dessert of mine. Made with semolina (contains gluten), golden brown breadcrumbs on top (thanks to the butter) and topped with syrup (made with white sugar). It may not be considered a “guilt-free” treat by some but it doesn’t matter. Because when I have it every now and then, and in small amounts, I don’t feel guilty at all.


9 thoughts on “Are guilt-free foods just as guilty?

  1. I was thinking about this yesterday when I was browsing some ‘popular’ recipe books – featuring ‘Guilt-Free’ Chocolate Cookies and Raw Slices.
    While I totally support the consumption of less-processed foods as a whole – I think it’s being taken too literally. As you say, fat-is-still-fat, and sugar alternatives are still high in processed carbohydrates and not so great for our pearly whites.
    A great post 🙂 x

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