Well, they may not be lying but unless you’re well-educated on the rules and loop holes the food industry operates by, you can be badly mislead. When the average consumer reads a label that says Low Fat or Lean or Zero Calories Per Serving, these catch phrases would suggest a healthy selection. Unless you know the actual definitions of these seemingly straight forward terms, you will likely make poor choices.
My goal in this post is to shed some light on a few of the worst offenders and hopefully help my readers to be better educated in making healthy choices for themselves and their families.
The following product reads 93% Lean with 7% Fat. It has the word Lean plastered on the package in big bold letters and to the unassuming consumer, this might seem like a good choice. First of all the word lean does not mean what you might think. The food industry’s definition of Lean is 10 grams of fat or less per 100 grams of food. So what does this really mean?
The following is the label from the back of this package and with 8 grams of fat per 112 gram serving; it technically qualifies as lean. The problem is that the 93% and 7% figures do not equate to calories. These percentages equate to Weight. We as humans do not look at food by weight. The menus at more progressive restaurants give the basic caloric and maybe fat and carbohydrate content of a given food or meal…not how much it weighs. Right?
Let’s look at the truth of what this label says. The fat grams per serving are 8 and a gram of fat contains 9 calories. Therefore the total calories in fat equals 72 which as a percentage of the total 112 gram serving size of 170 calories equates to 42.3% fat! This is higher in fat than some cuts of beef however if you don’t understand how the food industry is able to manipulate their packaging, you would never know how poor a choice this really is.
For what it’s worth, Extra Lean means 5 grams of fat or less per 100 grams of food and the product above qualifies as packaged. The 99% and 1% are still misleading because again, these figures equate to weight and not calories. With 1.5 grams of fat per 112 gram serving size of 120 calories, this food is actually 11.25% fat. While a good choice, it is far from the 99% lean that it appears to be.
No Stick Cooking Spray
How many of you use this type of product? While small in this photo, it is clearly labeled For Fat Free Cooking. How many of you believe this is really a fat-free food? Okay so let’s examine the label below from the back of the can. While the ingredients are not shown, they are: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a couple of preservatives, and propellant to get the oil out of the can.
It’s odd too me that the primary ingredient is olive oil and yet it has no calories or fat. Since when does oil come fat-free? For reference, let’s jump down below to a bottle of pure liquid 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For those not up on your metrics, a ml equals roughly a tablespoon and this product has a whopping 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per serving. This is actually quite standard for oil.
So how does Pam or a competitive brand get away with promoting their product as Fat Free and Zero calories per serving? Scan back up to the serving size which is a 1/4 second spray. By definition, if a food has a 1/2 gram of fat or less per serving, it can claim zero fat per serving on the label. It’s all about serving size and I don’t know about you, but I use more than a 1/4 second spray when using this type of product.
There are numerous other products on the market using the same type of trickery. And while you might not use loads of cooking spray given the fat-free and zero calorie claim, you might go way overboard with a product like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” spray or some other type of similar product. Personally I think it’s highly unfair for a food to be essentially 100% fat and yet it can be marketed as fat-free.
Most savvy consumers understand that mayonnaise is essentially fat and may opt for a light version in an attempt to save calories, fat, and preserve their health. By definition, for a food to be considered Light, it must contain a 1/3 fewer calories or half the fat per serving verses its full fat counterpart.
To insure that you understand the math, let’s look at the label below. One serving contains 90 calories and 10 grams of fat which makes this a 100% fat food. There’s
no mystery here.
My concern is how the light product is promoted. If you’re not familiar with the definition of light as noted above, you might think this is a healthier choice and potentially use more of the product simply because it’s labeled light. This is all the more likely to occur when the serving size is stated in grams versus the tablespoon for the regular version. Most people have an understanding of what a tablespoon means. However unless you have a kitchen scale, how do you measure 14 grams?
To understand the truth, let’s do the math. One 14 gram serving contains 35 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 1 gram of carbohydrate. Verses the regular version, light mayo is still 90% fat with some added sugar to make up for the taste taken away by the minimal fat reduction. For what it’s worth, 14 grams of mayo is roughly 1 tablespoon. Further, the light version above meets the definition as stated by the food industry.
My biggest problem is the smoke and mirrors used in promoting the product. Remember, regular mayo is 100% fat, and light mayo is 90% fat with added sugar. Both products are extremely calorically dense and need to be used carefully because just a little goes a long way towards your daily fat and overall caloric requirements.
Regular Peanut Butter
How many of you like peanut butter? Personally I think a good old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich with cold milk is one of the greatest creations known to man!
How many of you think peanut butter is high in protein? Most people say yes and yet it’s simply not true. Peanut butter is actually a legume which mirrors the macronutrients of a nut. Nutritionally it contains far more fat than protein.
For those who don’t believe me, let’s do the math starting with regular Jif below. One 32 gram (roughly 2 tablespoons) serving contains 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 8 grams of protein. At first glance you might think it has twice as much fat as protein, but that’s not the whole story. Remember, fat has 9 calories per gram while protein only has 4.
With 16 grams of fat at 9 calories per gram, one serving size contains 144 calories from fat or 76%. Protein is roughly only 17%. Now don’t get me wrong, peanut butter taste great and can play a part of a balanced and healthy diet. Just remember to consider it a fat that it highly calorically dense…not a protein.
Reduced Fat Peanut Butter
Now let’s look closer at the differences between regular peanut butter and the reduced fat version. The serving size is essentially the same and the calories are identical. The fat has gone from 76% to 57% which meets the requirement to be considered Reduced Fat by definition. My concern is what happens with carbohydrates.
Regular peanut butter has 7 grams of carbs per serving which equates to 14.7%. The reduced fat version has 15 grams of carbs which jumps to almost 31.5%. My concern again is how this product is promoted. Yes it contains less fat, but the manufacturer has replaced the fat with sugar. The calories are identical and to say that this is an improvement over the original is questionable as best.
Ultimately it is a much more highly processed food including the added sugar content. Personally, I recommend sticking with the original and being careful with your portions.
Percentage Daily Values
The last point I want to make is how the totals for each macronutrient are equated to a
% of Daily Value versus just the serving size itself. You might not think it’s that big a deal however its all in the perception. Here’s the difference using the label above. We could have used the mayo or oil because they do the same thing.
For a 36 gram serving which contains 12 grams of fat, the percentage given is 18%. 18% of what? Look to the right and you see a 2000 to 2500 calorie suggested day for the average person. The 12 gram serving is 18% of the suggested 65 gram fat limit for a diet containing 2000 calories. Which looks better, 18% or 57%?
I have worked with female clients who averaged 1,500 to 2000 calories a day who were super healthy. I’ve also had male clients who averaged 2500 to 4000 calories on any given day. The whole reason for promoting the fat as a percentage of a minimal daily recommended number is because it makes the food look lower in fat. Why not be straight forward and just say regular peanut butter is really 75% fat.
Our nation is facing an obesity epidemic largely unknown to many and a big part of the problem is that consumers are being misled by the food industry with its manipulative and misleading advertising and promotional tactics.
Call to Action for My Readers:
I’ve touched on only a few of the more misleading practices used by the food industry. There are many more and unless you become more knowledgeable, you will find it hard to consistently make healthy choices both at the grocery store and especially when eating out.
If you or someone in your family is struggling with the weight, please consider getting some help. A qualified nutritionist or personal trainer with nutrition credentials can make all the difference in the world in filling the education gaps. You can’t change your past but you can take responsibility for where you are today and start making different choices that will make all of your tomorrows better.