"Fat-Free," "Low-Fat," "Reduced-Fat" — these labels pervade the supermarkets, the media, and even restaurants and are found on a wide range of products. While some individuals may purchase such products because they prefer the taste, it is likely that most will do so to bring about improved health and/or body weight changes. The question is then "Will these products be effective in producing the desired results?"

The safety of using fat replacers has received much attention, but comparatively few data are available to address the issue of how these products influence human food intake and energy regulation. Until recently there were few studies examining the effects of variations in the level of fat in foods on energy intake and body composition. This was because until the mid-1980s there was relatively little emphasis on the role of dietary fat in obesity and related disease states, and the technology for formulating palatable reduced-fat foods was limited. Hence, we are only beginning to assess the effectiveness of such substances in reducing both dietary fat and energy intake.

Because of the paucity of relevant literature, nutrition professionals and the general public alike may make assumptions that the use of fat-replaced products will bring about automatic reductions in the high intake of dietary fat in Western society. However, we know very little about how consumers use fat-replaced foods. Will fat-replaced foods be substituted for higher fat versions of foods? ("I use low-fat mayonnaise instead of regular mayonnaise.") Will they be used as substitutes for "forbidden foods?" ("I'll eat fat-free potato chips, but not regular potato chips.") Will they be used as a license to increase intake of other types of foods? ("If I use the fat-free salad dressing, I can have a piece of cheesecake for dessert.") There is also considerable debate in the scientific community regarding whether the overconsumption of dietary fat alone leads to negative health outcomes, or if it is the resultant increase in overall energy intake due to the overcon-sumption of dietary fat that contributes to these outcomes. In many cases, the trickle down message the general public has received is "I can eat as much food as I want as long as it is low in fat or fat-free."

This chapter examines these questions and the existing scientific literature regarding low-fat/fat-replaced foods and diets to determine the efficacy of using fat replacers as a strategy to reduce intake of dietary fat and total energy.

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