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Label confusion - Foods and snacks labelled 'low fat' or 'light' can still be high in calories

Posted in: Weight Loss 20 Sep, 2012

Switching to the low fat option of our favourite food brands is usually one of the first steps, when looking to shift those extra pounds. Moreover, supermarkets frequently market a selection of food ranges as healthy and low fat alternatives, to many of the popular full fat brands. However, a report has argued that many of the ‘low fat’ choices found in the supermarket aisles contain the same number of calories as the standard options. Furthermore, according to the Daily Mail, the survey has reported that some of the foods labelled ‘low fat’ contain more sugar than their standard counterparts.

The survey’s revelations on the confusions associated with food that is packaged as a low fat or a lighter choice option, is a worry for those including myself, who purposely opt for these ‘lighter’ choice foods in order to watch their weight.

Light is not always right

The survey taken by Which? found that six out of ten consumers eat ‘low fat’ and ‘light’ food products several times a week, believing that they are choosing the option that is lower in fat and an altogether healthier choice. But according to the survey, in actual fact the light ranges compared to the standard options, show little difference in calorie content. What’s more, the traffic light colour code system that in the last few years has successfully been adopted by big supermarkets and many food manufacturers to display nutritional information has been graded as red on many of the apparent light options labels. Subsequently this suggests that they contain a higher fat, sugar or calorie content level than their ‘healthy’ tag may suggest.

Same difference

A sample experiment was done to show the slight advantage gained from choosing a ‘lighter’ food option as opposed to the normal option. Thus the consumer group found that within a standard packet of McVitie’s chocolate biscuits, one biscuit amounted to 85 calories. The ‘light’ version in comparison contained 77 calories resulting in an eight-calorie difference, which could easily be worked through physical exercise such as a minute or less of running or swimming. Likewise a Tesco’s own yogurt, also propelled questions. Heavily marketed as part of their ‘low fat range’, it was found to have a total calorie content of 130 content, compared to the yogurt brand Activia, whereby a whole pot consisted of just 123 calories. It also had greater sugar content, with a 20.2grams of (amounting to four teaspoons) sugar. In contrast the Acitiva range had just 16.9grams of sugar.

The difference between ‘light’ and ‘reduced fat’

Which? found that most consumers subsequently mixed up the terms ‘reduced’ and ‘light’ with one and other. Thus a survey that included 1,500 consumers, found that just 16 % of people knew that these options have to contain at least 30% less fat than the standard options, with the majority believing that the lighter option automatically was the less calorific choice.

As a result, despite following a low fat diet by replacing standard food ranges with their lighter counterparts, many people have often questioned why they have not been able to successfully shift excess weight. As found by the study, even though certain foods or snacks may be slightly lower in fat, this does not mean that these products are low in calories. In fact in order to retain the flavour in products marketed as ‘light’, many manufacturers may often increase the amount of other ingredients, which can result in the calorie content of the product will increase. According to the NHS, a food label when labelling as ‘low fat’ or ‘light’ should include:

  • Low Fat: the product should contain no more than 3g of fat per 100g
  • Light or Lite: Should be at least 30% lower in at least one typical value and that the label must clarify what and how much as been reduced

Subsequently, many of the supposedly ‘light’ or ‘lite’ options have the same amount of fat and calorie content as the normal version. When a certain food or snack claims it is low in fat, this can only be made subsequently when the product is 3 grams of fat or less. Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: ‘Consumers are choosing low-fat and light options believing them to be a healthier choice. But our research has found that in many cases they’re just not living up to their healthy image.’

If you are trying to lose or main a healthy weight than the inclusion of fresh fruit, veg and lean meat into your diet is more beneficial and key in successfully maintaining a healthy diet. Consuming a large supposedly ‘lighter’ choice of chocolate bar on the other hand, will in-fact only encourage unintentional weight gain. I myself am going to take a leaf out of Which? director Richard Lloyd’s book, who has advised consumers to ‘read the nutritional labels carefully’, and suggest others do the same.

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