The Pros and Cons of Jell-O for Weight Loss

Benefits and Risks You May Not Know About

Jell-O Nutrition facts
Jell-O Health Info. Rick Gayle Studio / Getty Images

Many dieters use Jell-O snack packs as a treat when they are trying to lose weight. It's a reasonable enough choice given that Jell-O is widely advertised as being fat-free. It is what hospitals regularly provide patients on restricted diets, after all, and something that can satisfy a sweet tooth nearly as well as a scoop of ice cream.

But does this necessarily mean that Jell-O is good for you?

Let's weigh the facts:

Jell-O Calories and Nutrition Facts

Cherry Jell-O Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1/4 package (21 g)
Per Serving% Daily Value*
Calories 80 
Calories from Fat 0 
Total Fat 0g0%
Saturated Fat 0g0%
Sodium 100mg4%
Carbohydrates 19g6%
Sugars 19g 
Protein 2g 
Vitamin A 0% · Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% · Iron 0%
*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Pros

Beyond sweetness, people use Jell-O snack packs for diets for two simple reasons: they are convenient and portion controlled. Both are big pluses if you aim to lose weight. In one fell swoop, you can avoid overeating and don't need to figure out how many calories you're going to consume. Nothing could be simpler. Preparing a big bowl of Jell-O at home, by contrast, can be a bit tricky one extra spoon could lead to two, three, and more. Snack cups save you from overindulgence. 

When dieting, you can make Jell-O all the healthier by choosing sugar-free snack packs.

These are sweetened with acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) used in many diet foods and beverages. Ace-K is around 100 times sweeter than sugar and therefore needs only a tiny amount to quell your sugar cravings.

While some people will deride Jell-O for being "packed" with chemicals, artificial colors, and artificial flavoring, the content is relatively small.

Moreover, there is little evidence that they'll do you any harm over the long term. If anything, the gelatin used Jell-O may offer some surprising benefits.

A 2016 study from the University of California, Davis reported that a 15-gram gelatin supplement taken before exercise doubled the collagen protein that composes tendons, ligaments, and bones. This supports long-held beliefs that eating gelatin can significantly improve the quality of your skin, hair, and nails and may help prevent osteoporosis.

Cons

For all of its presumed benefits, Jell-O is a source of empty calories.  Empty-calorie foods like Jell-O provide energy in the form of added sugar, usually a lot of it. For their part, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men. One serving of Jell-O weighs in at a whopping 19 grams. 

Even if you choose sugar-free Jell-O, the reduction in calories in no way detracts from the absence of nutritional value. Recognizing this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued recommendations, advising women to limit the daily intake of empty calories to 150 or 250 per day. Men should consume no more than 160 and 330 empty calories per day, while children should limit theirs to about 120 per day.

So, if you find yourself snacking on sugar-free Jell-O, drinking diet soft drinks, and eating sugar-free snacks, you will almost be sure to be depriving yourself of the nutrients needed to sustain good health. 

You should also remember that fat-free does not mean calorie-free. At 80 calories per serving, four cups per day will account nearly a fifth of the 2,000 daily calories recommend for women.

As for the ingredients, even if you dismiss the notion that artificial sweeteners are potentially harmful, a 2010 review in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine reported that sweeteners like Ace-K can trigger changes in the brain that actually increase your sugar cravings.

With regards to Ace-K specifically, it was shown to enhance the perception of hunger and increase, rather than decrease, the motivation to eat. 

By making sugar-free Jell-O and other artificially sweetened foods a part of your weight loss plan, you could find yourself amplifying the hunger pangs you might otherwise be able to control. 

Finally, it is important to remember that the gelatin contained in Jell-O is derived from the bones and hides of livestock, usually cows and pigs. If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, Jell-O is probably not the right choice for you.  

A Word From Verywell

In the end, there is nothing wrong with Jell-O. It is tasty and convenient, has a long shelf life, and is easily digested. If you opt for a sugar-free Jell-O snack cup, it can be an acceptable snack if you are trying to lose weight—as long as you consume it in moderation.

If you like sugar-free Jell-O but don't like the chemicals and artificial sweeteners, you can make your own with fresh fruit juice and powdered gelatin. This can significantly improve the nutritional value, especially if you stir in fresh berries, bananas, or even yogurt.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can make your own animal-free gelatin with a substitute called agar (made from cooking and pressing seaweed). You can buy in powdered form and use it as a 1-to-1 replacement for regular gelatin.

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