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The dark secrets companies don’t want you to know about the “low fat” food industry
Despite the rise in obesity and all the other diseases related to poor health, bad nutrition and lack of exercise, we are becoming more and more awoken to the fact that we need to nourish our bodies with better foods and do more exercise.
In fact, the 80’s and 90’s were decades where the health trends really started to take off. Aerobic workout videos and infomercials were all the rage back then and something else crept in. A little notion that if we don’t want to get fat, we should avoid eating fat.
Boom, the “Low fat” crusade was born and along with it were opportunistic companies and corporations ready to pan out low fat food to the masses.
Whilst that’s not a bad thing and I am not anti-corporation as such, I will highlight how they got a bit out of hand, in fact even underhanded about the whole thing.
But before I delve into the dirty dark secrets of these companies, let’s get one thing straight. Fat does not make you fat! Too much fat and calories will (And even then, it’s not just that simple). Fat is the most caloric dense of the macronutrients yielding 9 calories per gram as opposed to the 4 calories per gram provided by protein and carbohydrates? What does this mean? It’s easy to eat too many calories if you eat too much fat – one of the main reasons fat was vilified in the battle of the bulge.
The truth however is that fat is required by the body and eliminating it is not advised, in fact it can be downright dangerous and just like anything you eat, there are good fats and bad fats.
So, what does fat do?
From a biological point of view, fat helps create certain hormones in the body, create good cholesterol, improve brain and heart health, provide energy and insulation, transport of vitamins and minerals, help with repair, keep skin healthy and actually help mobilise fat stored in the body. Sounds great actually, doesn’t it?
Yet, we’ve become fearful of fat. Much like many health and fitness trends and thought, they’re steeped in here say and “Bro-science” and here’s where the trouble starts.
You see, instead of educate the public about what’s good and what’s not, food manufacturers just decided to create products aimed at the fearful masses labelled “low fat” and here are the 5 reasons you should be weary of foods labelled as low fat:
Fat is usually replaced by something else – Fat provides food with a feel good factor. It gives taste, texture and satiety. The trouble is, when you remove fat from a food, you end up having something that isn’t as satisfying. Food companies needed to makes sure low fat foods were still tasty and satisfying so they substituted the fat for sugar or even chemicals that were addictive and provided that satisfaction factor. The trouble is, it’s probably too much sugar that’s making us fat and not actually fat itself so many low fat processed foods such as low fat yogurts, low fat ready meals and low fat equivalents of regular fatty foods are sugar laden meaning they’re actually counterproductive against the fight against fat. Yes they will have less calories but the trade-off is probably much worse.
Labels are actually quite inaccurate – Having worked in the food industry for many years, I can tell you, hand on heart, that the nutritional labels are very different to what you’re actually getting in pre packed food. In fact, whilst most nutritional labels are a few percent out in most cases, in some, the discrepancy can be as much as 50% That’s a heck of a lot so simply by saying a food is low fat on the label doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting what they claim.
Ever heard of the “Health Halo effect”? Basically, when we see that a food is marketed as healthy or low fat, many people automatically assume that you can eat more and not have to worry. It may sound familiar, you buy a tub of low fat ice cream and eat the whole tub, but it’s “low fat” so it’s okay right? Probably not, especially when you take in the above points into consideration, chances are you’ve probably had more sugar and more chemicals as a result as well as the fact that the labels may not have been entirely accurate. It may be just a wise idea to eat the full fat ice cream but limit yourself to a single serving.
The “chemical shit storms” and Nutrient Deficiency – As alluded to in the first point, Foods touted as low fat often are pumped with chemicals or even stripped of nutrients in order to help them become low fat. Take skimmed milk for instance. Whilst the fat is gone so are the fat soluble vitamins that come along with the fat and the milk has to be fortified with vitamins and minerals. Now, this isn’t to say have whole milk as opposed to skim, if you’re watching your calories, skimmed milk probably is the better choice (in fact, I am not a fan of dairy at all) and just is an example to serve the purpose to show you what I mean. Going back to calorie counting for a moment – One of the biggest problems with this (apart from the fact that nutritional labels are somewhat inaccurate) is that people tend to focus too much on calorie counting and not nutrient counting. Let’s say that you’ve saved some of your daily calories and opted for a Big Mac and Fries. Yeah, you’ve got it to fit your macros but you run the risk of ending up in a nutrient deficit. In other words, whilst you may still be in a calorie deficit, the food does not provide as much nutrients which will not help your body one bit.
Marketing mumbo jumbo – Let’s be honest, most of us are busy. We want to make quick choices and we also want virtuous choices too. Food companies know this and whilst they may make us feel like they’re doing us a favour by offering us convenience. Many times, they’ll whack on a claim like “Low fat” onto a label or packaging and yes, whilst the food may actually be low in fat, it may not necessarily be healthy. A great example of this is in candy and confectionary. I have seen sweet foods aimed at kids with the slogan “Low in fat” – Whilst that is true, it doesn’t mean foods like Jelly or certain baked products provide any health or nutritional benefits yet we’ve been conditioned to think that they do just by evidence that there’s a label that states the food is “low fat” – A great example of this can be found in the cereal aisle where you see words like “Low fat” and “fortified with vitamins and minerals” (I mean seriously, the food is so devoid of nutrients, you have to artificially pump in some substance?)
So, what’s the solution?
First of all, I believe an understanding on how labelling works is important. You now know that most nutritional labelling can be inaccurate so take that into account when choosing foods but the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone is to try and stick to foods that are as natural as possible (you can’t really change the nutritional profile of whole foods and raw ingredients like vegetables and meats etc). Do read the ingredients of foods especially those that are classed as “Low fat” or “healthy” and check to see how much sugar and/or chemicals there are in the list. A rule of thumb I have is that if the ingredient list is long or requires me to google up on what’s in it, then chances are, I won’t be eating it.
Focus on eating for nutrient content rather than just focussing on the calories and remember, fat’s not the enemy. Bad fat (Trans Fats, hydrogenated fats and processed fats), sugars, chemicals and processed carbohydrates are the things you want moderate or avoid if you can.