A new study by the University of Toronto and published in the journal Appetite has discovered that most foods in Canada that are labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘fat free’ contain just as many calories as the full fat varieties.
The following are other terms used on packaging to promote supposedly healthier versions, but were also found to not contain fewer calories:
- 100% fat free
- Zero grams of fat
- Low in fat
- Extra lean
The research also found that even when the food was lower in total calories, it was often as small a difference as 17 fewer calories, which is not a lot.
“This research suggests that foods with fat claims may be misleading consumers and undermining their efforts to manage body weight or prevent obesity.”
How did they discover these findings?
The researchers looked at a database of 10,487 products that represented 75% of the grocery retail market share.
In total, they looked at the nutritional information of nearly 6,000 foods for the final analysis.
What were the worst offenders?
The food types that were found to be low in fat but not calories were as follows:
- Bread sticks
- Melba toast
- Granola bars
- Rice cakes and corn cakes
- Fruit-based snacks
The problem with these ‘healthy’ labels
What you will find is that people will tend to eat more of these seemingly healthier foods, so while their fat content is lower, they are still consuming the calories, so in effect are consuming more calories.
Mary L’Abbé, professor and chair of the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto and senior author of the new study had this to say about the results:
“You can have a food that is, on average, almost 50 per cent lower in fat, but has virtually no change in calories.”
“Food manufactures are removing the fat, absolutely. But they’re putting in other components, other ingredients (such as sugar) and in the end, that food has just as many calories.”
So what can you do?
While the main claims maybe a little misleading, they still hold the important nutrient information.
When you are shopping it is important not to look purely at the ‘headline’ but to look closer to see what nutritional information is available.
Check its fat content, its salt or sugar content, and also its total calories. And also compare it to similar products before picking the healthiest.
If you want to avoid weight gain, then these little details can make a big difference to those numbers you see on the scales.