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Replacing fat with other calories in low fat foods.

Losing weight has never been easier. At least it seems that way. And the best part is that you don't have to give up your favourite food to shed the kilos. All you have to do is switch to the low fat version of your usual yogurt, or cheese or cereal


Food manufacturers have made a big effort to meet the consumer demand for foods that are low in fat. But taking the fat out of many recipes and food formulations is often not the most challenging part. Consumers still want the appearance, texture and flavour of this new generation of their usual foods. Food scientists have found innovative ways to use carbohydrates (sugars, fibres), and protein to give low fat products the same look, mouth feel and taste.

A recent publication by Canadian researchers has shown switching to "100 per cent fat free," "zero grams of fat," "low in fat," "lean" or "extra lean," versions of your favourite foods may not be as helpful for dieters as you think. It all comes back to the fundamental principle underlying any attempt to slim down by changing your diet. Calories count. People seem to forget that, yes, fat is a source of calories, but carbohydrates (e.g. sugars, fibre), and protein also add to your calorie count when consumed. It has been shown that consumers often underestimate the energy content of low fat foods which leads to overconsumption of such foods.

Low fat products are lower in fat, but are they lower in calories? Carbohydrates and protein contain half the calories as fat (4 cal / g vs 9 cal / g), but if you take out 1 g of fat and replace it with 2 g of carbohydrate, you still have eaten about the same number of calories, even if the fat content is lower.

A review of a large number of low fat products showed that many were not in fact significantly lower in calories than their "regular" counterparts. Foods such as bagels, crackers, chips, yogurt, breakfast cereals, cottage cheeses, and milk that were labelled as "fat -free" or "low in fat" were still high in calories, even though their fat content was low.

So what to do? Beware of the front of the label claim. It may be misleading. The Nutrition Facts table will tell you the calories /serving information you need. Remember low in fat does not necessarily mean low in calories.


Are foods with fat-related claims useful for weight management?
Appetite 2016,96:154-159

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