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Ask the experts: Reduced-fat foods and added sugar

Q. I have heard that products which are fat-reduced have had sugar added to enhance the flavour. This seems counterproductive if we’re trying to be healthier. Can you please tell me if it’s true?

A. Healthy Food Guide senior nutritionist Rose Carr responds:

We always recommend using low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products to help limit the amount of saturated fat in your overall diet. But does that mean you’ll get extra sugar? Not if you don’t want to.

Some people love to say trim milk is higher in sugar than whole milk, or even go as far as to claim it has added sugar. The only sugar in trim milk is lactose, the natural milk sugar there all along. Trim milk has had fat removed and nothing added.

While there are many unsweetened low-fat yoghurts, some also have added sugars. Only total sugars are listed in the nutrition information panel, so that includes both added sugars and the lactose. We don’t need to worry about lactose in our diet, just the added sugars. You can estimate how much sugar has been added by reading and comparing labels. Find a product with no added sugar in the ingredients list and you’ll know all the sugar is lactose. Then compare that with similar products with added sugar (use the per 100g column) and you’ll get an idea of how much has been added.

Products that sometimes highlight being lower in fat, and might be higher in sugar than their regular counterparts, include reduced-fat muffins or other baked goods, dressings and sauces. They can often have just as many kilojoules, if not more, than their higher-fat alternatives. Become a label reader and you won’t be fooled.

And remember, not all products need to be low in fat. While fat is higher in energy than carbohydrate or protein, we do need healthy fats in our diet.

For more on the high/low fat dairy debate, see Are the naysayers milking it? Full fat vs low fat.

Have a question? Send yours to [email protected]

First published: May 2018



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