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Cut Calories? Fat chance

Focuses on the effectiveness of olestra, the calorie-free fat substitute. Increase of food intake after a low-fat meal.

Coming soon to your local supermarket snack aisle: olestra, the calorie-freefat substitute. But will fake fat help us achieve real weight loss?

Not necessarily. According to a team of French researchers, for many of us food intale actually goes up after we eat a low-fat meal, overriding much of its low-cal benefits.

The researchers served college women a traditional French dish, blanquette de veau, either in its usual incarnation or in a low-fat version. (One of the fringe benefits of participating in Parisian research projects, apparently, is free veal.) Half of the women were misled as to which type of meal they were eating. Either way, their food intake was carefully monitored for 11 hours afterward.

Le resultat? Both the repast's actual fat content and what participants believed it to be influenced subsequent intake, the scientists report in the journal Appetite. Unrestrained eaters --basically, folks who eat when hungry -- ended up consuming the most calories over the course of the day when they had knowingly dined on the low-fat veal dish. So eating the "lite" version of the meal, in effect, provided no overall advantage in cutting calories (though the women in the study weren't necessarily trying to do so).

And in keeping with previous studies of eating behavior, the women reported being hungrier after eating the low-fat meal, even though the portions were identical to the regular version.

Certainly eating less fat is a heart-healthy thing to do. But losing weight, it seems, may ultimately demand more than simply embracing anything labeled "low-fat."