Low-fat foods don't make you thin

Reduced-fat foods have fewer calories, but not by much. If you think you can lose weight just by eating low-fat versions of your normal products, think again.

This month saw the release of Harry Eastwood’s latest cook book, The Skinny French Kitchen.  Harry is back with her “cook-yourself-thin” take on classic French recipes, like confit de canard, gratin dauphinois and mousse au chocolat. Out goes all the yummy cream, cheese, butter and duck fat, in steps half-fat crème fraiche, boiling water and egg whites.

But aren’t they better for you?

Her method means you can eat dishes that vaguely resemble gloriously moreish French cuisine, without the same hefty calorie intake. But they aren’t the real thing, and you’re kidding yourself if you think they really taste as good. Plus if you’re dieting, Harry’s versions still aren’t the type of thing you should be eating every day.

Low-fat foods in supermarkets

In fact, relying on reduced fat versions of any product is no way to lose weight. Yes, the supermarkets and manufacturers have skimmed the fat off cheese, yoghurt and cream, and they’ve even started baking crisps instead of deep frying.

Are they really low-calorie?

But, in reality, the amount of calories you’re saving is minimal.

Baked crisps have just 32 fewer calories per small bag than the normal deep fried ones. Reduced fat mature cheddar cheese has just 19 fewer calories per 30g serving than regular mature cheddar. Ready-made, low-fat lasagne totals 34 fewer calories per 100g than its full-fat counterpart.

Are they all that bad?

The only product I could find that made eating low fat even worth considering was mayonnaise, which had 68kcal per 15ml serving fewer than the real stuff. But mayonnaise is essentially fat, so what they put in the low-fat version to make it taste like mayonnaise is a mystery to me.

What replaces the fat?

In fact, with all these products, the fat is what gives them most of the taste. Take it out and what are you left with? There’s no pretending that low-fat yoghurts are as good as the real thing, or that you haven’t noticed the slightly chemical aftertaste.

You’re eating marginally fewer calories, but you’ll be eating extra salt, gum and sugar that manufacturers pump back into the foods to give them back the flavour. And we all know what our enzymes turn excess sugar in to.

Why do you need fat?

Anyway, there’s no harm in a little fat. It helps make you feel full, because it takes longer to digest than other foods. Whilst it’s still in your stomach, you don’t get hungry. If you’re just eating low-fat, you’ll work up an appetite quicker and, if you’re anything like me, end up eating another serving, consuming more calories than if you’d just gone full-fat in the first place.

You also need some fat in your diet to transport fat-soluable vitamins A, D, E and K around your body. Plus fatty acids are essential for forming cell membranes and helping your immune system function.

Everything in moderation

The point that Harry Eastwood’s book misses completely is that if you really want to lose weight, you shouldn’t be eating rich French classics, unless it’s a treat for being so good. French women aren’t super svelte by eating low-fat roti de porc. They just don’t eat it every day. And they eat salad, a lot of it.

Low-fat cakes

Eastwood’s new cupcakes too, from Selfridges, are packed with vegetables to make them lower-calorie. If you really need a treat, but don’t want to pay the weight-gain then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind putting up with courgette cake and a miniscule layer of icing.

For dieters though, even these should be a no-go. They have fewer calories, but still some calories and even though you may feel like cake is one of the main food groups, if you’re dieting, they should be off the menu, again unless it’s a reward. But if you’re going to treat yourself why not go all-out?

Go full fat

It’s the same story for reduced-fat versions of your favourite foods. Reduced-fat on a product doesn’t give you a carte blanche to eat as much as you want of it. Nibble reduced-fat cheese every day and you’ll be disappointed when you step on the scales. But a bit of full-fat cheese a couple of times a week is practically the same calorie intake, and tastes better.

Reduced-fat foods are poor imitations of the things we love to eat. Don’t sacrifice flavour when you can eat great tasty dishes that are naturally low calorie and then occasionally treat yourself to the real thing. 

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