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Just because it’s fat-free, doesn’t mean it’s low-calorie. We’ll allow you a moment of shock and indignation before you read on. Yes, that’s right. A new study out of the University of Toronto found that the foods sold in Canada that claim to have lower or no fat have virtually the same calories as the full-fat versions.

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Researchers looked at items that boasted “100 per cent fat free,” “low in fat,” “lean,” “extra lean” or had “zero grams of fat” on their labels. While all of that was true, the products’ calorie counts weren’t significantly lower; in fact, they were similar to foods without the fat-related claims.

And even when they did contain fewer calories, the differences were as small as 17 fewer calories per serving. To put that in perspective, an apricot has 17 calories. Yeah.

“This research suggests that foods with fat claims may be misleading consumers and undermining their efforts to manage body weight or prevent obesity,” the U of T team writes in the journal, Appetite.

People tend to eat more when they think they’re consuming foods with fewer calories. So that sucks.

“For years and years, our nutrition recommendations focused messages on telling consumers to lower their fat intake and choose lower fat foods,” said Mary L’Abbé, professor and chair of the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto and senior author of the new study. “But you can have a food that is, on average, almost 50 per cent lower in fat, but has virtually no change in calories.”

“Food manufacturers are removing the fat, absolutely,” continued L’Abbé to the National Post. “But they’re putting in other components, other ingredients (such as sugar) and in the end, that food has just as many calories.”

The study included nearly 6,000 foods in the final analysis. Foods with the highest proportion of products with fat claims included ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, cottage cheese, luncheon meats, soups, vegetable sauces or purees and sour cream.

In most cases, products with fat claims were significantly lower in fat compared to products without total fat claims. But fewer than half of the lower-fat products were significantly lower in calories.

“In the end, the vast majority of the foods still provided the same amount of calories as the regular fat alternative,” said L’Abbé.

So, things like cereal, bagels, buns, scones, crackers, bread sticks, melba toast, granola bars, rice cakes and corn cakes, pancakes, waffles, yogurt, chips, pretzels, popcorn and fruit-based snacks…all lower in fat, but not calories. Ugh. So go ahead. Go for the full-fat sour cream. Enjoy the regular popcorn. Because it’s not making that much of a difference anyway.

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