Don’t be fooled by fat-free foods

It’s been said that the best things in life are free. Many people think when they see fat-free foods that they have hit the jackpot. They can eat as much as they want because the item contains no fat.

Unfortunately, foods labeled fat free, reduced fat, low fat or sugar free do not equate with calorie-free and contain additives like salt, sugar and chemical fillers that make them less than healthy.

If you want to keep off unwanted pounds, you need to look beyond the claims on the front of the package and take a critical eye to the nutrition label and ingredients. Labeling a food item fat free is a classic bait-and-switch marketing strategy the food industry uses to try and get consumers to forget about the calories.

Labeling a food as fat free is a tactic companies use to get consumers to forget about calories Click To Tweet

Kari Kooi, RD, LD, with Houston Methodist Wellness Services, says reduced-fat products often contain the exact number of calories per serving as full-fat versions.

Reduced-fat foods have a perceived healthy image that researchers have dubbed a “health halo.” Studies have shown that people tend to eat twice as much or more of these foods.

Nutrition facts
Don’t just look at fat content. You need to also pay attention to serving size and other macronutrients such as carbohydrates.

Manufacturers often set the serving size for packaged foods to be unrealistically small (a serving size of Oreos is three cookies, ha!), so it’s important to look at the number of servings per container.

For example, chips and drinks offered at the checkout lane in the grocery store appear to have one serving, but often times have two or more.

Instead of looking for products with health claims such a low fat, Kooi suggests concentrating on eating healthy fats from whole foods such as nuts, olive oil and avocados. Monounsaturated fats found in these foods have been shown to lower LDL or bad cholesterol and boost HDL or good cholesterol in the blood.

Omega-3 fats in oily fish such as salmon and anchovies also have been shown to lower LDL. She says that fat plays a strong role in feeling satisfied after eating, thereby helping with appetite control and should make up at least 30% of our daily calories.

She also recommends avoiding trans fats as much as possible as it promotes inflammation in the body. Products that contain partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list have trans fat.

When it comes to sugar free, it’s extremely important for people with diabetes to be smart label readers. Sugar is a carbohydrate and foods such as sugar-free cookies or candy are not free of carbohydrates. A person with diabetes may be unintentionally consuming large amounts of carbohydrates, which could lead to increased blood glucose levels.

The best way for all of us to avoid being fooled by reduced fat and sugar-free labels and putting on those unwanted pounds is to shop for nutrient-dense foods that don’t come in a package and therefore require no labeling.

George Kovacik

George Kovacik

Manager of Public Relations at Houston Methodist
George is a former radio news reporter who has worked in the Texas Medical Center since 1996.
George Kovacik

Published by

George Kovacik

George is a former radio news reporter who has worked in the Texas Medical Center since 1996.