Terms such as ‘low-fat’ and ‘reduced-calorie’ are very alluring for those attempting to eat healthily, but finding foods that are genuinely better for you isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.

The supermarket shelves are stacked with supposedly ‘healthier’ alternatives to the foods we can’t resist. Too often, we let ourselves be fooled into thinking we’re making ‘healthy’ choices. After all, if it’s dressed up to look scrumptious and leads us to believe we can have something a little bit naughty and get away with it, it must be better. But ‘better’ than what?

Manufacturers are responding to health experts’ and shoppers’ concerns and have been removing trans-fats from and reducing salt levels in some processed foods. However, there’s still nothing to stop them giving the misleading impression that their foods are healthier than they really are.

Labelling legislation is woolly, and the National Consumer Council is pressing for clearer, enforceable food labelling right across Europe. The EU-wide review of food labelling will be published later this year and aims to tighten up inconsistencies that allow products that are high in salt to boast that they’re low-fat, for example, as well as banning health claims that don’t have scientific backing.

There’s no legal definition of ‘low-fat’ although, as a guideline, three to 20 per cent is considered a moderate amount of total fat in a food. By law, manufacturers’ claims mustn’t mislead consumers, but beware of high sugar content in some low-fat foods. A ‘Goodies’ range ‘low-fat’ strawberry
trifle produced by Danone, for example, is high in sugar, with a whopping 628 calories per pot.

Currently a ‘reduced fat’ claim on the label means that the food should be 25 per cent lower in fat than the standard product, but that still doesn’t mean that it’s at the lower end of the fat-content spectrum.

biscuits

Similarly, Government guidelines state that the term ‘reduced-calorie’ should mean that calories are at least 25 per cent lower than in the standard version. Be careful though – ‘reduced calorie’ or ‘lighter’ isn’t the same thing as ‘low in calories’. For example, lower-fat or slimming versions of biscuits – the Weight Watchers brand, for example, or Mr Kipling’s ‘Delightful’ range (of chocolate brownies or cherry Bakewells) – are still high in calories. A ‘lighter’ cherry Bakewell is 179 calories compared to 198 calories for the standard version, for example.

taken from here bbc.co.uk/food/food_matters/healthyeating.shtml