"Light" food is not as good as you think

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

Beware of light products. Are light products really healthy? Light products have been present in all supermarkets for years, but be careful, "Light" does not imply that it is healthier choice. Today we are going to see what they hide behind the label.

In fact, "light" products may be worse than the rest. If the fats of a product are removed, the food industry has to counteract that loss with the addition of sugars, emulsifiers, sweeteners, stabilisers, salt, melting salts and an endless number of E-numbers increasing its processing level, when we have a look at the labels of "light" products with 0% sugar, we can find in their list of ingredients refined flours and saturated oils or huge amounts of sweeteners, making useless the claim of "healthy" that implies 0%, and, although, they won't kill you there is a direct relationship between ultra processed products and obesity. (1)

One example is the mayonnaise. The mayonnaise is an oil-in-water emulsion. Traditional mayonnaise is an o/w emulsion containing 80% oil, in which egg yolk serves as an emulsifier (2). Light mayonnaise remove up to 50% of the fats but all of this loss has to be replaced by modified maize starch which change the texture of the mayonnaise, increase their stability, decrease viscosity, or modify gelatinization times, adding cream powder to give "body", fibres and thickeners which increase the viscosity of the product without changing its other properties.

According with a study published in the European journal of nutrition 2013:

The observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, and suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk.

The truth is that the abuse of light foods could become more harmful than foods with a higher fat value.

Also, there is a curious psychological effect: when we intake light products, we believe that we can ingest them together with other less healthy products because we balance the diet with the good ones, for instance, eating a hamburger with a light Coca Cola and not feel guilty about it, this is called the HALO effect. In fact, we are incorporating unhealthy and less satiating foods into our diets.

It is not advisable to reduce calories from your diet with the intake of light products only, but to eat quality and well-balanced foods in terms of fats and sugars. Abusing ultra-processed foods with a large amount of hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, flavouring agents or emulsifiers (3), even if they are called "light", will always be worse than unprocessed or under-processed products even if they have more fats.


(1) Tavares LF, Fonseca SC, Rosa MLG, Yokoo EM. (2012). Relationship between ultra‐processed foods and metabolic syndrome in adolescents from a Brazilian Family Doctor Program. Public Health Nutr 2012; 15: 82–87. Accessed 12 December 2019

(2) J.E. Fox et al. (2003). Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition). Accessed 3 January 2020

(3) Hall KD et al. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Accessed 16 January 2020


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