New food-labelling laws are putting the squeeze on the fat claims of milk and yoghurt, among other products.
If a manufacturer wants to label a food reduced fat, or to use the words light or lite, that food must contain 25 per cent less fat than its standard version does. (As a result, the food can still have 75 per cent of the original product’s fat content.)
When a product label states that it’s low fat, the rules vary. A low-fat solid food (such as custard, ice-cream or yoghurt) can have a maximum of 3 per cent fat, whereas a liquid food (like milk) can have a maximum of just 1.5 per cent fat.
These new laws apply only to new products. Rebadging existing brands is currently voluntary, but all foods will be required to stick to these stricter laws by 2016.
So how do manufacturers slash a food’s fat yet maintain its appeal? One method is to add a thickener, such as a starch or a gum, that mimics the way the missing fat would have given that food a thicker or creamier texture. (Some thickeners are very low in kilojoules, making them an even more attractive option for food suppliers.)
Starches add bulk much like cornflour does when you use it to thicken a sauce in cooking. Be aware that some starches are based on wheat, milk or soy, so people who suffer from food allergies should read ingredient labels carefully.
Gums can be derived from animals (gelatine), plants (agar) or even bacteria! These gums can also contain a type of fibre called resistant starch, allowing products that comprise them to promote themselves as not only low fat but also high fibre.
Another common way of making up for the lack of fat is to replace it with sugar or other sweeteners. The food doesn’t taste quite the same as the original, but its sweetness still provides some of the satisfaction we’re seeking.
Always check the energy (kilojoule) content of foods whose labels read ‘low fat’. Although some fat has been removed, the starch and sugar that’s replaced it may still stand in the way if you’re looking to reduce your kilojoule intake.
HFG dietitian Brooke Longfield says:
When choosing reduced-fat foods, look for those that are at least 25 to 30 per cent lower in both fat and kilojoules.