Walk down the middle aisles at any grocery store and you’ll be inundated by labels! How in the world can a mom make good decisions on what to put in the cart and take home to the kids? A number of questions revolve around the terms “fat free”, “low fat”, and “reduced fat”. Here’s the skinny on the labels and how to make informed choices for yourself and your family.
Did you know that items labeled “fat free” may still legally contain fat? Regulations say that “fat free” products must contain less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving. Non-fat is basically the same thing as fat free, but the key here is portion control.
To be considered “low fat”, products must contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
If a new and improved item contains less than 25% than its original traditional counterpart, it can be labeled as “reduced fat”.
The “light” label is used when products have either 1/3 fewer or 50% less fat than their originals.
So What’s The Problem?
So knowing all that, should you always go for the fat free label on the front of the box? Not necessarily.
The trouble with “fat free” is that sometimes it’s the rest of what’s in those packages that causes most of the trouble when it comes to our health.
The first problem stems from the fact that fat free often means taste free, too. Food manufacturers have resorted to injecting various additives such as sugars (which will eventually get stored in our body as fat anyway), flour, thickeners, salt, color, and chemicals to make the foods taste good.
Of course, doing this can make the so called healthier version of the food just as unhealthy for us as the products we were trying to avoid in the first place.
Another issue is from a psychological standpoint. Buying the fat free version of foods sometimes makes us feel like we are doing ourselves a huge favor in terms of health, so there is a high likelihood that we will overeat after giving ourselves the free pass to indulge. The food people know this and they slap that fat free label on all kinds of stuff, from juices to salad dressings – even things that had no fat to begin with!
Lastly, realize that fat free does not automatically constitute low calories. Soda, fat free ice cream, pretzels and gummy bears can all be low in fat, but they are not all low in calories, especially if we eat them without regard to portion sizes.
Keep in mind, that fat is important, and our goal should not be to cut it out of our diets completely.
Healthy fat helps us stay full, and not getting enough of it results in unhealthy dips in blood sugar levels, making us feel hungry sooner and more often.
So yes, we need fat at every meal. Just not the kind found in a bag of Oreos!
So now what do we do?
If you don’t already do this, making it a habit of not only reading the FRONT of the package, but also the BACK, will go a long way. That’s where the real story is.
Look not only at fat content and calories, but try reading the list of ingredients. Stay away from stuff you can’t pronounce, and the fewer things on the list the better.
If you’re not at the grocery store and can’t see the packaging, know that most all baked goods, fast food, and various processed foods are full of those “bad” fats.
Your best bet is what you’ve probably heard before, but it bears repeating:
- Beware of the type of fat you’re eating – stay away from trans fat and hydrogenated oils.
- Watch serving sizes – if there is more than one serving size in the package, make sure to multiply the fat, sugar, sodium and calories accordingly.
- Seek more whole foods, less chemicals – check out my tutorial for reading food labels here.
- Eat more fresh foods from around the outer edges of the store, not in the middle aisles.
- Make small changes – try adding new foods and recipes to your family’s nutrition plan a little at a time until you find things you like (or at least can live with).
- Realize that there is no quick fix when it comes to healthy eating (annoying, I know).
- Exercise regularly – especially as you get older.
So that’s the scoop on fat free. Now you can step away from those Oreos feeling better about yourself.
The next time you go food shopping, look down into your cart. Do you see lots of boxes and packages, or more real foods? Remember, tiny changes will have the biggest impact for your long-term health!
In this thing with you,