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Food

Here’s how ‘healthy’ foods could make you put on more weight

SafeFood says many people eat larger portions than recommended if a meal is advertised as having low or reduced fat.

MEALS ADVERTISED as being having low or reduced fat content could ultimately make people put on more weight, the cross-border food safety authority has found.

SafeFood says academic studies have shown that people may eat larger-than-recommended portions of food if they are told that a food is low in fat.

The study, led by academics from the University of Ulster, indicated that many people associated ‘low fat’ foods with having a low number of calories when this was not always necessarily the case.

The research included a survey of 180 adults from across Ireland with a range of body weights, asking them to compare their estimate for a ‘reasonable’ size of regular- and low-calorie foods.

Participants were shown three pairs of food – one type of food having lower calories than the other – and asked to measure a reasonable portion, before being asked how guilty they might feel if they ate a full portion.

“There has been a huge increase in the number of food products with nutrition and health claims sold over the last 20 years, but we also know that the population’s weight has continued to increase,” explained SafeFood director Cliodhna Foley-Nolan.

“The research shows that these foods are viewed by some consumers as a license to overeat. However, in the case of many products, the fat that is removed in the ‘healthier’ product is replaced by other ingredients, such as sugar, and the calorie savings are small,” Foley-Nolan said.

“Consumers need to re-look at their portion sizes, as any benefit they might get from these ‘healthier’ processed foods could be undone by just how much of them they are eating.”

Professor Barbara Livingstone, who led the University of Ulster study, said the research seemed to affirm the ‘health halo’ effect.

“Consumers perceive these products to be healthier and with less calories than the ‘standard’ version food,” she said.

“They seem them as representing the less guilty option and so eat more of them. Further education on what is a healthy portion size is warranted to overcome these misconceptions.”

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