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Low-fat, light and lite options

Research in 2012 from the consumer group Which? put low fat foods under the microscope and found they don't always live up to their healthy image. This can cause confusion for someone trying to follow a low-fat diet.

Researchers found six in 10 of us eat low-fat and light foods several times a week thinking they are a healthier option, but, when compared to the standard versions of comparable foods, they often contained a similar number of calories.

'Light' or 'lite' foods can taste bland and manufacturers can compensate by adding more of other, not so healthy, ingredients. Which? found they could contain more sugar and salt.

Consumers pick 'low-fat' and 'light options' believing them to be a healthier choice, which is not always the case.

Which? advises consumers to read the nutrition labels carefully.

Low fat, light or lite?

The research also uncovered misconceptions amongst consumers about what the terms 'reduced fat', 'light' and 'lite' mean. Products labelled with these terms only have to contain 30% less fat than the standard version, yet only 16% of the 1,005 UK residents surveyed understood this.

Here's what to look for on nutrition labels:

Total fat
High means more than 20g of fat per 100g
Low is 3g of fat or less per 100g - or put another way less than 3% fat.

The problem is that sometimes low-fat foods are also bland. To make up for that lack of taste, food manufacturers tend to pour other ingredients - especially sugar, flour, thickeners and salt - into the products. This may increase the calorie content.
If the foods aren't that appealing, they may also lead to overeating to make up for the lack of satisfaction.

Saturated fat
High means more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low is 1.5g, or less, of saturated fat per 100g

And while you are looking at fats on the labels, keep an eye out for salt and sugar content too:

High is more than 15g of total sugars per 100g
Low is 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

High is more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (0.6g sodium)
Low is 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (0.1g sodium)

Different manufacturers and supermarkets may display information on the front of packs as well as the back to help identify healthy options. These may also show how much a serving of the food makes up of a person's guideline daily amount.

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