I would encourage you to buy and eat mostly foods that DON’T contain food labels – fresh fruits and fresh veggies, fresh and local meats, and other whole-food items. But there will more than likely also be items that do have labels. Terminology on packages can be incredibly confusing – marketing likes it that way! So for today, let’s look at a few terms found on food packaging labels. There are many, many, many terms, and later we can look at others. But for now, we’ll start with a few common ones.
And, boy howdy, can they be sneaky!
Did you know that “fat free” does not really mean completely free of fat? And that “calorie free” doesn’t necessarily mean there are zero calories?
Ahhh, and the fun begins!
So, here’s the top two tricky lingo you may see on a package, and what it can legally mean.
Calorie Free: Less than 5 calories per serving (so it can have 1, 2, 3, or 4 calories per tiny serving)
Fat Free: Less than 0.5g of fat per serving (so it can have 0.1,0. 2, 0.3, or 0.4 grams of fat per tiny serving)
On labeling, they are allowed to simply round the number down. More on why this may matter below.
Another trick with fat free – it is NOT the same as “calorie free”! If there is less fat, chances are the flavor is being made up with extra sugar and/or salt. Just because a cookie is “fat free” or “diet” does not mean it is helpful towards your weight goals – and by no means will it guarantee natural or healthy! Chances are, it is a highly-processed, nutrient-depleted, love-it-for-a-moment-feel-guilty-later hunk of immediate-gratification that does not lend itself towards natural, healthy, beautifying goodness. Better than an even more yucky option? Maybe. Worth it for the moment if you truly enjoy it and won’t feel guilty later? Possibly. But that’s your call.
Fun stuff, yes?
When working at a weight-loss retreat, the best examples of this I saw were with a spray butters and oils and artificial sweeteners. Both claimed “fat free, calorie free.” So one woman at the retreat would douse her potatoes, salads, vegetables… with the “fat free, calorie free” butter spray, assuming that would be conducive to her diet plans. The catch? She was going through about 1 bottle a week, which – despite misleading labeling – contained something close a whopping 200g fat, and over 1000 calories! (But that 1/8th second spritz of a “serving size” was less than 5 calories and less that 0.5 grams of fat, so it was legal to claim fat -free calorie-free. And who uses 1/8th a second spritz for buttery goodness, honestly?)
Little packets of sweeteners can be the same. Nutrasweet, Splenda, Equal, etc – debates on being potential neurotoxins and carcinogens aside – all tend to average 4 calories per packet. So, legally, they can claim to be “calorie free.” Another patron at the retreat liked to sweeten her daily yogurt with 3 packs, her cottage cheese with 2 packs, her coffees with 4+ each, her pineapple with 3 packs… In a day, she said she was adding well over 20 packs per day. So, from “calories free” items, she was adding almost 100 calories PER DAY from “calorie free” foods. Perhaps you feel 100 calories isn’t that big a deal, but when you’re basing your weight goals on counting calories, that extra 100 per day can add up to an additional pound per month that you aren’t losing as you expected.
Be label savvy, and also be label minimizing – go for the good stuff! The natural, healthy, healing, vibrant stuff that doesn’t need all the confusing jargon anyways. Often, if you see health claims like “now with antioxidants!” or “lower fat!” or “baked, not fried!” they are just selling you health claims, not health. I’d probably pass it by, wave too-da-loo, and go find something that’s ALWAYS had healthy antioxidants, healthy fats, healthy nutrients, and more.