Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Low fat vs fat free, what's the difference?

How to understand and use the US Nutritional F...Image via Wikipedia
The savvy consumer today knows the importance of reading the food labels to eliminate as many chemicals, additives, and unhealthy substances in the food that their family consumes. For optimal health it is important to examine nutritional facts and expiration dates. Unfortunately, the job is not always  easy since the FDA allows manufacturers to use synonyms.  Let's examine the differences and meanings behind the terms "low fat" and "no fat."

What is "low fat"?

The FDA allows manufacturers to use synonyms such as: "low" "little" "fewer calories" "small amount of" and "low source of."  ("Definition of nutrient content claims" http://www.fda.gov/)Now, that can be a little tricky considering the amount of information already on the food label. Also, note that the comparison food is the standard product and not the recommendation of the FoodPyramid.gov for "low fat" content. For example, standard "Cheerios" is the basis for comparison when a low fat version is manufactured. This may or may not represent a real healthful change. This would depend on the fat content of the original item. (Basically, it is recommended that fats do not exceed one third, or less of the daily caloric intake). So, a "low-fat" food is defined as 3 grams (28 fat calories) or less per RACC/serving* per 100 grams.  ("Definition of nutrient content claims" http://www.fda.gov/)

Some naturally "low fat" foods are: fruits, vegetables, oats, pasta, rice.

What is"no-fat"?

FDA approved wording for "no-fat" are: "zero" "no" "without" "negligible source of" "dietarily insignificant source of." Again, there are even more terms to decipher that mean "no fat." The exact description is, according to the FDA  " 0.5 g per reference serving (14 fat calories approximately per serving) amount and per labeled serving of a food." ("Definition of nutrient content claims" http://www.fda.gov/)

Keep in mind that even though a food may be labeled as no fat, that does not mean calorie free, so remember to watch the portions of the food consumed.

Examples of no fat foods are: fruits, vegetables, jello, microwave popcorn, crackers and hard candies.

In summary

The FDA's allowance of ambiguous terms on food labels emphasize the need for consumers to continue reading and researching names of unfamiliar substances and terms on food labels.
*You may also see on the box RACC (Reference Amount Customarily Consumed). According to the FDA:
"Persons 4 years or older reflecting the amount of food consumed per eating in this population group based
 upon national food consumption surveys...[These surveys were taken in 1977 and 1978 and again in1987- 1988. Both were conducted by the US Department of Agriculture]"

Sources:
"Definition of nutrient content claims" http://www.fda.gov/
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