Do low-fat foods make us fat?

December 8, 2006

Recent Cornell studies in movie theatres, holiday receptions, and homes showed people eat an average of 28% more total calories when they eat low-fat snacks than regular ones. "Obese people can eat up to 45% more," reports lead researcher Brian Wansink (Ph.D.), in the book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

"People don’t realize that low-fat foods are not always low-calorie foods," says Wansink. Fat is often replaced with sugar. Low-fat snacks are an average of 11% lower in calories, but people wrongly believe they are around 40% lower.

In one study, two groups of people attending a holiday open-house were given identical regular chocolates that were labeled as either "Regular" or as "Low-fat." People served themselves an average of a third more of the candies, which would have translated into 28% more calories if they had actually been low-fat. A second study showed this is because "people believe they will feel less guilty eating the low-fat foods, so they tend to overindulge, says Pierre Chandon, co-author and marketing professor at INSEAD in France. Fat is often replaced with sugar.

The complete set of research studies, published in the November issue of the Journal of Marketing Research, was cited by the Economist as one of two significant noteworthy studies published that month. It is titled, "Can ‘Low-Fat’ Foods Lead to Obesity""

For policy makers and companies, the message is that new "low-fat" foods are unlikely to solve the obesity solution. People are very likely to over eat a low-fat foods – even if they don’t like them as much as the regular versions.

For dieters, there’s also clear message. As Wansink advises in the book Mindless Eating, "Stick with the regular version, but eat a little bit less. It’s better for both your diet and your taste buds."

Source: Cornell Food & Brand Lab

Explore further: Will requiring food stamp retailers to sell more healthy food make it easier for SNAP recipients to eat better?

Related Stories

Three new studies link eating red to a healthy heart

April 12, 2011

Tart cherries have a unique combination of powerful antioxidants that may help reduce risk factors for heart disease, according to new research presented at the Experimental Biology annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Good nutrition starts with the basics

March 15, 2012

March brings another National Nutrition Month. We Americans have unlimited sources of dietary information and frequent reminders about weight, diets, nutrition and food. Look at the magazine rack at the supermarket, the large ...

Recommended for you

Baby teethers soothe, but many contain low levels of BPA

December 7, 2016

Bisphenol-A (BPA), parabens and antimicrobials are widely used in personal care products and plastics. The U.S. and other governments have banned or restricted some of these compounds' use in certain products for babies and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.