Fat Free Does Not Equal Calorie Free

If you are trying to lose weight, looking at labels to find the lowest fat foods may actually be sabotaging your efforts.  Food labels can be quite misleading in an attempt to try to sell more products, and it works!  One of the most falsely held beliefs is that when you find a food that is fat free, it is also calorie-free.  This leads you to believe you can eat all you want.  And that’s what the manufacturers want you to think.

In actuality, when fat is taken out of a product, other additives must go in to take its place, enhancing the flavor and texture of the food.  Carbohydrates are often added, and these provide a substantial amount of calories; even artificial sweeteners provide a small number of calories, and you can get the accurate information on the nutrition facts panel if you look closely.

Here are a few types of foods people look for in low fat varieties to enjoy guilt free… and why you can’t have all you want without piling on the calories:

Candy: Candy bars containing nuts or chocolate have a significant portion of their calories provided by fat.  But there are also calories from the sugar (and a small amount of protein).  Candy that does not contain fat (like Skittles, Starburst, jelly beans, Pixie Stix, lollipops, or marshmallows) provides calories from the sugar.  Ironically these often advertise “no fat” on the label, implying that the original product did contain fat, but this particular brand does not.  In fact, they–along with other products like some sodas–will advertise “fat free” to get you to buy theirs. There is not any difference, though, between one brand of sugary candy and another when it comes to fat and calories.

Salad dressings: Virtually all the calories in salad dressing come from the fat in them.  So it may seem logical to assume that a low fat or fat free dressing would be much lower in calories.  They are somewhat lower (and greatly varied depending on each variety and brand) but also have calories added back from the other ingredients to keep the flavor and texture in the dressing.  A two-tablespoon serving of regular ranch dressing has 145 calories; the low-fat variety has 80, and the fat-free, 50.  As the fat goes down, the calories drop significantly, but certainly not altogether.  And people tend to pour more on, since it’s lower in calories!  If you aren’t careful using this type of product you could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

Snack foods: These are probably the biggest culprit.  We all love to snack on cookies and chips and are secretly hopeful we will find a way to enjoy all we want without adding hundreds of calories to our diet.  But it just can’t be done.  Regular Lay’s chips provide 150 calories per ounce, and although the Baked Lay’s reduces the fat content from 10 grams to only 1.5, the calories are still at 130 per ounce.  Not a significant difference–especially while people are eating more, figuring they are lower in calories to allow for a double serving!

Another example is the Low-Fat Oreo Cookie.  At 50 calories a piece there is not much difference between this and the 54-calorie regular Oreo, especially if you have an extra one.

The bottom line is, if you are watching your calorie intake you can’t go by the ‘low fat’ advertisement on the front of the label–or even by the fat content of the food.  You need to compare the actual calories provided, and by alll means be aware of what they call a serving size!  The best way to reduce calories from fats is to cut back on your serving size, and eat dressings, candies, cookies, and chips a little less often.

Image by: Daniel Y. Go, Flickr.com

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