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Claire Hughes on health and wellbeing: blog 1

Introducing a new series of blogs by our Head of Nutrition & Science, Claire Hughes. Claire has an MSc in Human Nutrition & Metabolism from University of Aberdeen. She joined M&S in 2005 as Company Nutritionist and heads up the science led nutrition and health strategy for M&S. Claire sits on the IGD Nutrition Strategy Steering Group, BBSRC DRINC Steering Group and BBSRC Biosciences for Industry Panel.

“At M&S we’re passionate about health and wellbeing and we know how important it is to our customers. We also understand that the plethora of advice, information, reports and studies can be confusing and, in some cases, conflicting. In a series of blogs I’ll try to help, answering some of the questions our customers ask us, providing science led insight to help customers take the right steps to have a healthy and nutritious diet for themselves and their families. If you do have any questions, please do get in touch at: or visit our health website:

Blog 1: Low fat diets – good or bad?

There has been a lot of media coverage on fat and whether we should be eating more than we do currently.  As with all diet advice, there is never a simple answer but I’m hoping that the following advice will help.  Low fat diets can be a good way to help you manage or lose weight.  That’s because fat has almost twice the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrate or protein, therefore when you minimise fat in a product or within your diet then it helps you control calories. 

This approach may not work for everyone and some people find low fat diets difficult to stick to but the same can be said for any diet. If you eat a lot of fat and don’t control it at all you will put on weight, as the body stores fat (very little fat is converted to carbohydrate).

Low fat does not mean no fat!  The legal definition of a low fat food is one that has less than 3g per 100g.  Based on a typical low fat menu plan, and depending on how many calories that you need,  you could consume 35g-50g of total fat a day, the daily guidelines are 70g a day.  Some fats in your diet are essential and a low fat diet still enables you  to eat products such as salmon, essential for omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA).

Low fat diets typically contain lower levels of saturated fat so are an option if you are at risk from high cholesterol and will be given the advice to lower your intake of saturated fat.  It’s important when you are reviewing one part of your diet that it doesn’t have a negative effect elsewhere.  Not all saturated fats have the same effect on blood cholesterol and there is evidence from some studies that dairy products may have protective properties, which may be due to other positive nutrients in these foods such as calcium.

So our advice would be to pay attention to the quality of fats in your diet, ensuring that you avoid and eat less saturated fats, eat plenty of omega 3 oils (long chain ones like you find in fish) and use vegetable based oils where you can.