Is this the end of low-fat as we know it?
Full-fat foods are in — and the industry is taking notice. Grocery stores are stocking fewer low-fat processed foods on shelves, and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee didn't recommend a low-fat diet. So, what's the prognosis for low-fat foods?
Current consumer behaviors/perceptions
In the first half of 2015, volume sales of whole milk increased 11% in the U.S., while skim milk sales decreased 14%, according a September 2015 report from Credit Suisse Research. In the twelve months to September 2015, U.S. egg consumption was up 2%. Globally, butter consumption is growing at 2–4% a year. Full-fat yogurt sales are also booming.
Although the proposed 2015 government dietary guidelines don't recommend a low-fat diet, they do still recommend limiting saturated fat and using low- or non-fat dairy. However, a number of studies question that recommendation. To say the least, the question of how much fat (particularly saturated fat) in the diet is OK is highly controversial.
The U.S. ranks 16th in per capita fat consumption, at 65.5 grams a day, about in line with the current government guidelines for total fat consumption. Belgium takes the top place, with a per capita fat consumption of 95 grams a day. However, U.S. sugar consumption is far ahead of the rest of the world, lending credence to those who say limiting sugar is key to lowering obesity rates.
The perceptions of most consumers and doctors align with the official dietary recommendations, according to market surveys discussed by Credit Suisse Research in its report. "Yet, some consumers are clearly making new choices," according to the report. It concludes we are at a turning point, and natural, unprocessed fats are the key to a healthier society with lower obesity rates.
The end of low-fat?
One criticism about many processed low-fat foods is that they have added sugar, salt, and additives to improve the taste. "The end of the low-fat craze is upon us," health and wellness coach Rob Arthur said in an email. "Low-fat Franken-foods are harming our health."
Anthropologist Jared Miracle has a different view. "The trends in consumer buying patterns will not be as fat-focused as they were during the 80s and 90s, but low-fat will continue to be the preferred option in most cases," Miracle wrote in an email. "Ultimately health-conscious consumers will still shun fat because it is the inherited wisdom to avoid it and fat is more calorie-dense than the other macronutrients."
By calorie dense, Miracle means fat has nine calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram for carbs and protein. However, not everyone believes all calories are the same and point out low-fat diets have proven ineffective for losing weight. The question becomes, what the consumers' perception of fat is.
The bottom line for food companies making low-fat products? "There's still a large segment of consumers who seek out low-fat. Until they become an unprofitable minority, companies won't be able to walk away completely," says Rob Volpe, founder of Ignite 360, in an email.