The Big Scam: Non-Fat, Low-Fat and Fat Free


This was posted to my Facebook news feed awhile back. I shook my head and then burst out laughing.  The sign totally embodies my experience with fat-free and low-fat food.

A few years ago my life was incredibly stressful; both emotionally and physically. I coped by eating. Eating lots!  I managed to stay away from sugar which made me feel rather virtuous. Never mind that I was growing out of my clothes. And of course, I avoided the scales at all costs.

My moment of truth came in the Doctor’s office.  I knew I had gained. BUT 50 pounds?! Really! Worse yet, I was within spitting distance of 200 pounds.

That was it!! Two days later I had enrolled myself in a popular weight loss program. The particular weight loss program heavily promoted the idea of reduced-fat and fat-free products. Which sounded really good until I went to the store and started reading labels.

A favorite food is (and always has been) peanut butter.  At 75 calories a tablespoon it is not exactly a diet food, however.  I found the most natural brand on the grocery shelf and started reading the label. Ingredients: peanuts and a little salt. So far so good – no high fructose corn syrup which is often a problem in commercial peanut butter.  I duly noted that 1 Tablespoon contained 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of carbs.

The reduced fat version caught my eye.  I picked up the jar and examined the label.  1 Tablespoon has 95 calories; 6 from fat and 6 from carbs.  Hmmm!  Less fat; more carbs and more calories.  What was going on?  I read the ingredient list: maltodextrin, reduced fat ground peanuts and salt.  First of all what is maltodextrin?  And why is it in peanut butter?

Maltodextrin is a “digestible carbohydrate made from rice, corn, or potato starch.” A little research shows that it is a substance made from hydrolyzed corn starch (usually from genetically modified corn) and may include free glutamates (MSG).  Now, it is not technically sugar, but within an hour of eating it your body won’t know the difference!

Pretty easy decision – It was NOT going into my body! A little extra fat seems like a small price to pay!

That experience started an intensive study of fat-free and reduced-fat products.  Turns out that they do have less fat, but since fat gives food a lot of flavor food processors have to do something to make the food taste better.  Usual solutions include salt, high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch (GMO origins), Free Glutamates (MSG, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein and Natural Flavors)  Diglycerides (sugar), gums (Guar and Xanthan) and synthetic vitamins. to replace what has been leached out in the manufacturing process.  AND to add injury to insult they often contain more calories and carbs than real foods.

This experience lead me invest in A Shopper’s Guide To What’s Safe & What’s Not. This $7.95 book went into my shopping bag and I don’t leave home without it. It was also helpful in making a few rules to follow when buying food.  Means I don’t always have to look things up.  I just follow these common sense suggestions:

  • Buy fresh and unprocessed foods as much as is possible
  • If the ingredients list has a bunch of things not immediately recognizable as food – don’t buy it!
  • If there are any chemicals involved – don’t buy it
  • If it has more than 5 or 6 ingredients it is highly suspect and probably more expensive than it needs to be

Don’t take my word for it.  Go and look at something like regular cottage cheese and compare it with low-fat cottage cheese.  I guarantee you it will be a surprise. Sometime processed foods that sound really healthy are worse than the original food version.  Buyer beware!


About Genene Cote

Genene Coté -- Nutrition Advocate, Counselor and Coach who is also a Whole Food Plant Based Eater (vegetarian/vegan), cook and gardener.
This entry was posted in additive-free food, excitotoxins, sugar-free food, weigh loss, Whole Food Plant-Based Food Kitchen, Whole Food Plant-Based nutrition and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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