New research by UK consumer affairs magazine Which? has revealed that many ‘low fat’ and ‘light’ food products may not be the healthy option consumers think.
According to Which? six in 10 consumers eat low-fat and light foods several times a week thinking they are a healthier option; however, Which? says that when compared to the standard versions of similar foods, they often contain a similar calorie content to the supposedly less-healthy option, and may contain more sugar.
For example, says the magazine, a standard McVitie’s chocolate digestive contains 85 calories; a light one has 77 – a difference of just 8 calories which can be burned off in less than a minute of swimming or running.
Similarly: a Tesco low-fat yogurt has more calories per pot – 130 – versus the Activia standard yoghurt with 123 calories. The Tesco yogurt also contained more sugar – 20.2g (more than four teaspoons) per pot rather than 16.9g.
Which?’s research also uncovered misconceptions amongst consumers about what the terms reduced fat and light mean. Products labelled with these terms only have to contain 30 per cent less fat than the standard version, yet only sixteen per cent of those people surveyed understood this.
“Consumers are choosing ‘low-fat’ and ‘light options’ believing them to be a healthier choice,” said Which? executive director Richard Lloyd, “but our research has found that in many cases they’re just not living up to their healthy image. Our advice to consumers is to read the nutritional labels carefully.”
Which? has been campaigning for supermarkets to add clearer labelling to packaging so consumers can make an informed choice about what they eat.
In August Populus surveyed 1,005 UK residents online about their consumption of low-fat, reduced and light foods asking: how often they ate these foods, the reasons they chose for doing so and what they thought the terms low-fat, reduced-fat and light meant.
Which? took a snapshot sample of twelve low-fat, reduced and light products from across all supermarkets, and compared them with their standard counterparts and other products on criteria such as the calorie, fat, sugar, salt content and compared ingredients. The magazine looked at a broad range of different foods products from the leading food brands to give an overall picture of how low-fat, reduced and light products differ from the standard versions.