28 Sept 2012
At last we have evidence that ‘light’ and reduced fat’ foods are a big low-fat con! Last week, Which? published a report that spelled out how food manufacturers have been ripping us off with these pseudo-healthy products. The consumer watchdog highlighted 12 examples of ‘reduced fat’ and ‘light’ food that contain more sugar than the normal versions of the product, and offer either a minute or no reduction in calories. One example, a McVitie’s ‘light’ chocolate digestive, contained a mere 8 fewer calories than a standard one – a saving that could be burned off in less than a minute’s running or swimming. Special K, the breakfast cereal marketed to help weight loss, was found to contain MORE calories per bowl than Bran Flakes. Similarly, Tesco low fat yoghurt had more calories and sugar than standard yoghurt from Activia.
If these products ‘worked’ (ie helped people eat less fat or fewer calories or lose weight), then surely we would all be slim by now – after all, they’ve been around for more than 20 years. So why aren’t we?
Firstly, people have been led to believe these products are healthy. So they eat bigger portions (ie more calories!). Research from Cornell University in the US showed that people who were given products labelled ‘light’ or ‘reduced fat’ ate up to 50% more than they did with the standard product.
Second, there’s the misconception that fat makes you fat and is therefore ‘bad for you’. The truth is, we need fats (particularly the unsaturated kind) for our bodies to function properly. It’s sugar that we need to be more worried about. High sugar intakes (not high fat intakes) are more likely to push up your risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc. Fat may be high in calories but it is also satiating so it gives the body the feeling of being full – providing you eat them in as natural a form as possible (e.g. milk, cheese, nuts, fish).
The bottom line? To stay lean, simply eat a little less of the full fat version rather than trying to ‘have your cake and eat it’ by buying a reduced fat version. If you’re trying to lose weight by eating reduced fat biscuits and crisps you’re barking up the wrong tree! Move more, eat less, it’s that simple
Links to the headlines
Many ‘low fat’ foods have similar calorie count to standard products, study find. The Guardian, September 20 2012
Calorie warning over low-fat foods. The Independent, September 20 2012
‘Light’ versions of popular food brands can contain high levels of fat. Daily Telegraph, September 20 2012
Which? Low Fat Foods Under the Microscope. Published online September 2012