Two important exceptions to the relationship between energy density and fat content: foods with reduced-fat claims and high-fat vegetable-based dishes

Public Health Nutr. 2004 Jun;7(4):563-8. doi: 10.1079/phn2003572.


Objective: To test the hypothesis that many foods with reduced-fat (RF) claims are relatively energy-dense and that high-fat (HF) vegetable-based dishes are relatively energy-dilute.

Design: Nutrient data were collected from available foods in Melbourne supermarkets that had an RF claim and a full-fat (FF) equivalent. Nutrient analyses were also conducted on recipes for HF vegetable-based dishes that had more than 30% energy from fat but less than 10% from saturated fat. The dietary intake data (beverages removed) from the 1995 National Nutrition Survey were used for the reference relationships between energy density (ED) and percentage energy as fat and carbohydrate and percentage of water by weight.

Statistics: Linear regression modelled relationships of macronutrients and ED. Paired t-tests compared observed and predicted reductions in the ED of RF foods compared with FF equivalents.

Results: Both FF and RF foods were more energy-dense than the Australian diet and the HF vegetable-based dishes were less energy-dense. The Australian diet showed significant relationships with ED, which were positive for percentage energy as fat and negative for percentage energy as carbohydrate. There were no such relationships for the products with RF claims or for the HF vegetable-based dishes.

Conclusion: While, overall, a reduced-fat diet is relatively energy-dilute and is likely to protect against weight gain, there appear to be two important exceptions. A high intake of products with RF claims could lead to a relatively energy-dense diet and thus promote weight gain. Alternatively, a high intake of vegetable-based foods, even with substantial added fat, could reduce ED and protect against weight gain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Commerce
  • Diet Surveys
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / analysis
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / analysis*
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism
  • Energy Intake* / physiology
  • Food Analysis / statistics & numerical data*
  • Food Labeling
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Vegetables / metabolism
  • Victoria


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats