THE COMMON CULPRITS

So when free-wheeling around your supermarket aisles, watch out! There are hordes of low-fat offenders waiting to catch you unaware. We've enlisted the fat-free police and dietitian Kate Di Prima to investigate five common culprits.

Lollies

They may read 'fat-free' but lollies are packed with sugar and are high in carbohydrates."Lollies do not have a role when it comes to a daily diet plan," Di Prima insists. "Keep them for parties. You don't put your party- poppers out on the table every day, so keep the lollies away too.Your body doesn't need them. All they really do is provide a simple sugar rush of insulin and if it's not burnt off, the body converts the excess energy into fat."

Alternative: If you do choose to have a sweet fix, Di Prima has some stern advice: "Make sure you have lollies close to a main meal, this slows the absorption of sugar."

Yoghurt

Whether on top of your cereal or as an afternoon snack, low-fat yoghurt is a common player in many of our diets. "Yoghurt should be a daily thing," Di Prima agrees. "It can be a great part of achieving your two-to-three servings of dairy food per day and is a fabulous source of calcium and protein. These days I don't see many problems with low-fat yoghurts, as most are calorie controlled."

Advice: "Stay away from artificial sweeteners because they generally taste terrible. If you need to go full-fat, the best idea is a small portion after dinner at night."

Dried fruit

It shares the 'fruit' tag-line and low-fat label, but can something so sweet really be good for you? "The serving size of dried fruit does tend to throw people," Di Prima says. "Portion control is the key. An ideal combination is around 10 sultanas with four or five raw nuts; the protein will help keep you full.

Advice: "Dried fruit in bread is great as the grains slow down digestion and keep your energy levels sustained for a longer period."

Sauces and spreads

You've switched to low-fat mayonnaise and peanut butter, but that doesn't mean that you can afford to be more generous with the serving. "It's good to limit your portions of spreads and sauces like tomato sauce, because they do contain sugar," Di Prima says. "There seems to be few problems with low-fat mayonnaise, but my qualm with low-fat peanut butter is that it just doesn't stick! Peanut butter has good fats in it anyway, so stick with the full-fat variety, just watch your portion."

Advice: "A rule of thumb for all sauces is one tablespoon, for spreads one teaspoon."

Cereal

With so many low-fat cereals on the market, it can be tricky to choose the best breakfast option. "The more processed cereals become, the less sustaining they are," Di Prima says. "The dangerous thing about cereals like Rice Bubbles or Corn Flakes isn't actually the calorie content, it's that they are highly-refined and zoom into your bloodstream, which means you are more likely to overeat during your next meal."

Advice: "Pick cereals that have 'wholegrain' and 'iron' written on the box, they'll give you more energy for longer. The less refined the better."

Overall it seems that we need to be more discerning when it comes to what we eat. Fat-free doesn't necessarily mean healthy. So whether you're shopping or sampling, do your insides a favour by checking the nutritional information, watching your portions and picking low-fat products that will ultimately satisfy your body, not just your conscience.