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Low fat doesn't necessarily mean fewer calories

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Study finds little to no difference in calories in many foods that advertise a cut in fat

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – You try to watch what you eat, but it seems some of those “low-fat” and “non-fat” products may not be helping you.

A new study looks into the number of calories packed into those supposedly “good for you” foods. The difference in calories is minimal to none in many of those foods that advertise a cut in fat.

The new study out of the University of Toronto has been published in the journal Appetite.

“For many of the food categories that we looked at, products with fat claims were not significantly lower in calories, says research assistant Alyssa Schermel, who led the study.

“And even in the foods with fat claims where calories were reduced — and this is less than half of the categories that we looked at — the level of fat reduction was considerably greater than the level calorie reduction, and the absolute difference in calories was really small.

“For example, you could have a food that’s a 50 per cent reduction in fat, but that only translates to 20 fewer calories.”

Schermel says the results themselves weren’t especially surprising.

“I think we were more surprised that low-fat is still a major focus in our culture, and I think that just stems from the 1980s, where consumers have been advised to choose lower fat foods. For example, it’s still in Canada’s food guide, and that advice is still being given today.”

She adds the long list of foods that had a lower amount of fat but only a small or non-existent reduction in calories included cereals, bagels, granola bars, cottage cheese, and yogurt, popcorn, and chips.

Schermel is hoping the study will lead to a better understanding that we shouldn’t be completely focusing on fat messaging, but rather on the overall health limits of what we put in our mouths.