When it comes to the crunch, none of us want to be full-fat, we want to be 98 per cent fat-free, so it makes sense to pick foods that wear our slim hopes on their packets – right?
Just because it’s low-fat doesn’t mean it’s good for you. We reveal everyday foods that can pile on the kilos.
Not quite. According to Kate Di Prima, dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, fat isn’t the total black sheep of the diet family.
“For as long as I can remember fat has always equalled weight gain in the public conscience,” she says. “I guess that the media has preconditioned us to think that way. While it’s true that fat has twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrates, it can also be extremely good for you. Things like avocado, olives and nuts all contain good oils, which keep the heart healthy and help lower cholesterol. You just have to control your portions. What you really should be watching are calories,” Di Prima advises. “You simply must look at calories in versus calories out within your daily diet if you want to stay healthy and keep your weight down.”
Despite the fact that we are often privy to the advice of dietitians like Di Prima, the mentality among weight-conscious Australian women still seems to be that low-fat is the right pick when it comes to beating the bulge.
“Low-fat foods are perceived as healthier,” says Liz, 32, a magazine editor. “I think this is true for dairy, but I know that things like biscuits and cakes aren’t necessarily better for me, yet I still can’t seem to buy the full-fat versions.”
“I opt for low-fat foods because they generally taste the same as the alternatives, and I think many of them are better for you,” says Carla, a 23- year-old student. “I think a lot of women probably feel less guilty about eating low-fat chocolate mousse for example, than gorging on the real stuff.”
But if we’re counting calories, the ‘real stuff’ is often no worse than its low-fat alternative. “Two years ago I did a story on common low-fat supermarket products,” recalls Di Prima.”I was looking at a brand of fudge cake and was really surprised to find that the low-fat variety had more calories. In some instances, low-fat foods can actually be worse for you. They are less sustaining and often we’ll eat more of them, because psychologically we think we’re doing our body a favour.”
Even though low-fat foods have only reached market saturation point in Australia over the last couple of years, they’ve have been under the nutritionists’ radars for a long time. A study into the relationship between energy density and fat content by researchers at Deakin University’s School of Health Sciences in 2003, found that low-fat foods were more energy-dense when compared to high-fat, vegetable-based dishes. As part of the study, various ‘reduced’, ‘low’ and ‘fat-free’ products from a variety of manufacturers were tested against their full-fat substitutes. The results indicated that a large intake of low-fat products can lead to greater amounts of consumed energy or calories, which can result in weight gain. And believe it or not, energy density was often sky-high in products classed as low-fat.