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Don’t take an extra bite when you’re eating ‘lite’

Do you feel less guilty about eating something labelled as ‘low fat’ or ‘light’? Well, if you’re trying to lose weight, swapping to these ‘healthier’ options may not be as helpful as you’d think…

This month we’ve been looking at the differences between products labelled as low fat, reduced fat and light compared to their standard versions. In our survey, six in ten Brits said they regularly eat these types of foods, but we’ve found they often contain similar calorie content to supposedly less-healthy options.

Low-fat foods under the microscope

For instance, the difference between a McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive and the McVitie’s Light Chocolate Digestive is just eight calories – you could burn that off in under a minute of swimming. The light version does contain 30% less fat, but it doesn’t contain 30% fewer calories and this is often where the problem lies.

Products labelled with ‘lite’ or ‘low fat’ only have to contain 30% less fat than the standard version, yet just one in five people told us they knew this.

Just because something is labelled as ‘light’, ‘lite’ or ‘reduced fat’ don’t assume it’s actually low in fat. For example, a ‘light’ cheese can still be high in fat – Cathedral City mature cheddar has 34.9g of fat per 100g, and the ‘lighter’ version has 21.8g. Although that’s 30% less fat, it’s still classed as high.

Low-fat foods can become even more mystifying when you compare them to standard products from other companies. For example, a Tesco low-fat yogurt has more calories per pot (130) compared to Activia standard yoghurt (123 calories). The Tesco yogurt also contained more sugar – 20.2g (more than four teaspoons) per pot compared to 16.9g!

Eating more due to the ‘health halo’

Research from Cornell University in the US showed that people who were given products labelled as light and low fat ate up to 50% more than they did with the same standard product. This is called the ‘health halo’.

And almost to confirm this, at the weekend a friend told me that his girlfriend had started buying Walkers Baked crisps in place of the standard variety. He confessed that he eats two packets instead of one!

So, while many low-fat and light foods can help in weight loss or maintaining calorie intake, it’s clearly not always the case. Instead of immediately reaching for these options, I’d recommend comparing the calorie content of a few versions while you’re in the supermarket. And that’s something that would be much simpler if we had clear traffic-light labelling on all food products.

Do you buy low-fat and light foods in the hope of being healthier, but then end up eating more of them?


Fat isn’t bad for you. It doesn’t cause obesity, heart disease, cancer etc. Processed food, junk, artificial sweetener, refined sugar, too many calories are grains are bad for you.


Whoops! That should be “and” grains…


To put that in perspective, remember that fats provide more calories for a given weight than anything else in food.


But you can easily have 125g of carbs in one meal (pasta); you wouldn’t have 125g of fat (half a block of butter) in one go. So you actually get more calories from carbs …


Carry on if you want to follow the example of the late Dr Atkins.


Avoid the goods labelled as lite or healthy eating like the plague. They are often bland and tastless compared with the traditional goods.The best way to avoid being over weight is to avoid over eating and to stop contiuous snacking. Good luck.


I am not sure what can be done other than providing clear labelling of all food products, as Shefalee suggests. The use of terms such as ‘healthy eating’ should be either controlled on banned.


I’ve been wondering about the advantage of 1% milk over semi-skimmed. If you only use about 200ml of milk per day, the difference must surely be minimal. Any suggestions as to the number of calories saved ?


Probably the main benefit of skimmed milk is to cut down on saturated fat intake. I have noticed that people tend to use more skimmed milk in coffee, presumably relying on colour to decide how much to add.

Given the choice I would prefer skimmed milk in tea, semi-skimmed in instant coffee and full-cream milk with muesli, and I enjoy staying with friends that buy all three varieties. I just buy semi-skimmed.