Light products: do they make you fat or thin?

Carola Felchner is a freelance writer in the NetDoktor medical department and a certified training and nutrition consultant. She worked for various specialist magazines and online portals before becoming a freelance journalist in 2015. Before her traineeship, she studied translation and interpreting in Kempten and Munich.

Light products can be found in numerous variants on the supermarket shelves: from low-fat cream, reduced-sugar chocolate cereal to "balance" vanilla ice cream. The "light" leads you to believe that you would save and lose calories. But while such supposed diet aids were booming in the 1980s and 1990s, nutrition experts have become critical of light products. Read here why it is sometimes better to stay with conventional food as a weight-loss consumer and what terms such as “fat-free”, “low in sugar” and Co. really mean.

What are light products?

Light products are foods that, compared to their conventional version, have been reduced in at least one nutrient area that is harmful or harmful to the figure: they contain less sugar, fat, salt, alcohol and / or calories per serving.

Since the introduction of the so-called Health Claims Regulation in 2007, there has been legal regulation across the EU as to which requirements a light product must meet if it wishes to bear a certain name.

For example, only foodstuffs whose nutrient or energy content is at least 30 percent below that of the conventional variant are given the stamp "light"; low-fat foodstuffs must even be 50 percent below the fat content of the "normal version".

Low fat, reduced sugar. – which term means what?

If you want to know exactly what is behind the labels of the light products, you get a detailed overview of the requirements for the different labels on food in the EU Health Claims Regulation. Among other things, it defines the following terms:

Leicht / light / reduced (he share): The corresponding nutrient must be at least 30 percent less than a comparable conventional product. Micronutrients are exempt, a 10 percent difference is sufficient, 25 percent for sodium / salt.

Energy / calories: Solid light products must not have more than 40 kilocalories per 100 grams to be declared low-calorie, liquid maximum 20 kilocalories.

Reduces energy: The calorific value of such a product must be at least 30 percent below that of the regular version.

Low-fat / fat-free: Solid foods that are issued as low-fat may not exceed three Grams of fat per 100 grams, liquid products contain only 1.5 grams of fat per 100 grams. For fat-free products, the upper limit of 0.5 grams of fat per 100 grams applies. Information such as "xx% fat-free" is not permitted.

Low sugar / sugar free: For low-sugar solid foods, the maximum value for light products is five grams of sugar per 100 grams, for liquid only half is allowed. A food is considered sugar-free if it contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per 100 grams / milliliter.

No added sugar: This term does not mean that the food does not contain sugar. No one was added to make it even sweeter. Such products often contain the note: "Contains naturally sugar".

Light products: advantages and disadvantages

In principle, the regulations sound as if light products could really help to reduce or increase weight hold, without having to do without chips or your favorite sausage. In certain cases this is actually the case.

For example, there are studies that indicate that (slightly to moderately) overweight people can actually lose weight if they consume light products or specially reduced-fat foods. However, this only worked if the test subjects generally had a low-fat diet.

According to nutrition experts, light cheese in particular can help to reduce general fat intake. In addition, it often contains even more minerals (e.g. calcium) than the original – however, you often have to compromise on the consistency. According to a study by the University of Göttingen, reduced-fat sausage is also suitable for weight control, albeit to a lesser extent than naturally low-fat varieties such as ham or turkey sausage.

"Diet trap" through Light products

However, the risk of falling into the "calorie trap" tends to be greater than the fairly manageable benefits of light products. Low-fat stimulants such as ice cream or chips tempt you to grab harder than you would normally do. Save calories? None. Because even if such light products contain less fat, their carbohydrate content can be higher and the difference in calories from the regular variant can be minimal. The same applies to low-sugar cookies, whose sugar substitutes can make them almost as high in calories as their conventional counterparts.

Light products also often contain more water to reduce their energy content. In order to maintain the usual consistency (or even a homogeneous mass), emulsifiers are often added, flavorings and yeast extract provide (more) taste.

In addition, there are studies that indicate that sweeteners, consumed excessively, can lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea and can even increase weight, since the reduced energy consumption is offset by increased consumption. Especially when it comes to drinks containing sweeteners, there is a great risk of unwantedly consuming too much energy.

Light products: conclusion

Light products can support a low-sugar and low-fat diet and even weight loss. However, only if they are incorporated sensibly and in a dosed manner into a fundamentally healthy eating plan.

However, per se, light products for a weight and health-oriented diet are neither really helpful nor necessary. On the contrary: they often contain flavors and additives. In addition, you have to study the nutritional information carefully to avoid falling into the calorie trap. Not everything that advertises low-sugar or low-fat labels also has a lower calorific value. More sensible and more targeted than Light products is in any case a reduced-calorie mixed diet with lots of fiber and natural foods.


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