97% Fat Free? Maybe Not
What Nutrition Labels Aren't Telling You

How the FDA allows food manufacturers to claim that a food is 97% fat free when it really contains 21.4% fat.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 66% of all Americans, that's 134 million adults over the age of 20, are overweight or obese. Despite the FDA's attempts to educate consumers on how to make healthy food choices, and, despite record sales of "low fat" "health" foods, the average American will still pack on an extra 1-2 pounds per year.

Why? One reason could be that an FDA law allows food manufacturers to mislead consumers into believing the foods they eat are healthy. Here's how.

Food manufacturers are allowed to determine the percentage of fat in their food products based on the food's total weight as opposed to the total number of calories. For example, take a package of 97% fat free chicken breasts. Here are the nutrition facts:

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 2 oz 56 g

Servings Per Container: 4

Amount per Serving

Calories 70

Calories from Fat 15

Total Fat 1.5g

To determine the percent fat per serving, you divide the total calories by the fat calories, so 70/15, then multiply the result by 100. This chicken now becomes 21.4% fat per serving. Not exactly a low-fat product.

So where on earth did the food manufacturer get the 97% fat free number? They take the amount of fat per serving and multiply it by the total number of servings per package. In this case, 1.5g of fat times 4 servings. That's 6g of fat per package.

Next, they divide the 6 grams of fat by the total weight of the package, 224 grams. The result is that the chicken becomes only 2.67% fat by weight.

Unfortunately, weight is a measurement of mass whereas calories are a measurement of energy. They are two entirely different systems. And since the human body runs on calories, not on mass, the marketing claims of 97% fat free, while technically true, are incredibly misleading.

The fact is, the body will see the chicken as 21.4% fat, which can have great consequences in battling heart disease and attempting to lose weight.

So how do consumers protect themselves?

First, never believe anything on the front of the package, including claims like "low fat," "healthy" and "wholesome."

Second, always read the label and calculate the percentage of fat in the product based on calories per serving divided by the total amount of calories.

Third, avoid foods where the amount of fat per serving is greater than 20% of the calories per serving. In the above example, the chicken breast contains over 20% fat per serving. Rather than avoiding the food all together, which may be unrealistic, simply cut the serving size in half, then add vegetables, whole grains and fruit to make a complete meal.

Knowing how to make healthy choices based on facts rather than fancy marketing ploys will go a long way towards helping Americans make truly healthy dietary choices--choices that will help lead to successful weight loss and improve overall health.

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