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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?

Comments
Guest

For too long we have been mis-lead into believing that low fat is good. I have improved health on these lines: 1. Fat is not fattening. 2. Protein is more satisfying than carbs. 3. Natural, not manufactured foods are better for you. 4.Do not count calories, use a tape-measure rather than scales. 5. Lower your intake of sugar, flour and their products,also keep in check potatoes,rice and pasta. Eat the burger and not the bun and take a little exercise and enjoy life!

Guest

Fat is not fattening

May I suggest that you study elementary nutrition?

Guest

I did not mean this as a personal criticism, Peter. It is worrying that many believe that fat is not fattening, when it has been known for decades that it is the component of food that provides most calories, by weight.

Of course we should limit the amount of carbohydrate we eat. The best advice is that we should eat a balanced diet (and not too much of it) coupled with plenty of exercise.

Guest
par ailleurs says:
23 September 2012

Actually wavechange, he is more right than you think and nutritionists are gradually revising old advice. The recent TV programmes fronted by Michael Moseley, who is certainly not a trendy fly-by-night type, showed just that. Fats are nowhere near as dangerous as sugars (all sugars at that) and excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates. It’s not mainstream yet but it is being studied seriously by proper scientists.

Guest

I am sure that dietary advice will evolve, but eating what is generally regarded as a balanced diet has got to be better than crank diets such as the Atkins diet.

What is clear is that many of us are eating far more than we need to and this coupled with little exercise is the reason for obesity. Many eat far too much sweet food and find it somewhat addictive. It is well known that refined carbohydrates are converted rapidly to sugars but unrefined carbohydrates are also metabolised to produce sugars, with the bonus of providing dietary fibre. Stored fats can also be used to produce sugars, a process known as gluconeogenesis. That’s what must happen to lose flab.

Guest
par ailleurs says:
23 September 2012

This convo has just apparently swallowed my reply which took a while to type! Never mind, I’m off for my roast chicken (with skin!) and all the trimmings. And after following the advice from Mr Moseley I’ve so far lost a stone and it’s continuing. Something’s happening somewhere/how and I’m not going hungry either.

Guest

Perhaps we should be discussing nutrition on another Conversation. This one is about lower fat versions of products.

Like many I use semi-skimmed milk and low-fat natural yoghurt. These products are widely sold and are a well accepted way of eating food with fewer calories.

Guest

I go for semi skimmed and low fat where possible, but some times I can’t help wondering if it’s more worthwhile to simply buy full fat, e.g, with cheese, and then use less of it. A taste test to see which was the best ‘heath value’ in terms of, how much needs to be used to get a decent flavor and whether it’s worth buying the low fat stuff at all, would be interesting to read!

Guest

I dont think it is coincidental that obesity rates have soared as low fat foods have become more popular. I don’t think they are filling and made me crave more food.

What I have been doing for the last year or so is only eating “real” food. No food designed in a laboratory with loads of chemicals.
My daily menu is normally 2 boiled eggs, meat salad with olive oil for lunch and fish/ meat