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Learn the Truth About Misleading Fat-Free Food Labels

Updated on June 24, 2014

What Is In a Label

The trend in today’s society is all about maintaining a rock hard physique and eating right. Yet processed foods offered at extremely high quantities poses a question, is the labels of our food truthful.

When the food industry slaps a 97% fat-free label on a food that is due to the method in which that number is calculated. The figures used on labels are based on the weight of the product and not the calories the product contains. But as a consumer we are hooked by the claim of the slogan on the product.

So I did a little research and sought out to see if the claim of the product held up. I chose relatively healthy foods and products I commonly eat. So lets look at how oatmeal, tuna and the Kirkland weight loss shakes do when their fat content is calculated.

Understanding the Label

The Psychology Of Labels

Labels are created to drive traffic to them. Therefore, food labels do not differ in the fact that the purpose of them is to attract attention. Think about what attracts you most to a food label. Well just think if you are struggling to loose or maintain a certain weight are you likely to at least pick up a food claiming to be Fat-Free? Studies have shown that inviting labels and those with slogans that claim to provide a benefit are likely picked up if not purchased. So look for words on labels that attract attention such as:

  • Lower cholesterol
  • Low fat
  • Healthy
  • Heart healthy
  • No/low trans fat
  • Low sodium
  • Burns fat

Calculating Fat Content In Food

The calculations used to find the true amount of fat in products:

  • Multiply each gram of fat by 9 to get the calories
  • Then divide the fat calories by the total calories
  • Multiply by 100% to get the percentage of calories from fat

Beginning with breakfast

The labels do not insinuate that it is low in fat but oatmeal is a staple product known for it's health or so assumed.

  • One serving of oatmeal is ½ cup dry cereal with 150 calories and 3 grams of fat per serving which is 4% of your daily allowance.
  • Using the conversions above the fat content in oatmeal is as follows:
    • each gram of fat is multiplied by 9 (3 x 9 = 27)
    • Then divide fat calories and total calories then multiple by 100% (27 / 150 x 100% = 18%)
  • The calculations reveal that the true fat content in oatmeal is 18% compared to the 4% the label shows.

Now lunch

Tuna known for its healthy content and low fat option, and easily packaged in a can.

  • The label states that there is ¼ cup in a serving and contains 50 calories per serving. 1 gram of fat is in that serving and consists of 2% of the daily allowance.
  • Again using our equation
    • 9 calories per gram of fat which is computed at 1 x 9 = 9.
    • Then take the 9 fat calories and divide by the total calories and multiply by 100% to get an accurate calculation of fat calories of the tuna. 9/50 x 100% = 18%
    • The actual fat calories are 18% compared to the 2 % on the label. Our calculations worked once again.

Dinner -Weight Loss Drinks

The last experiment and the most important to me was the Kirkland weight loss drinks which I swear by and now wonder how fictitious the label is. This label does say 99% fat free so let’s see how true this is.

  • The calories of this drink are 230 with 2 grams of fat equaling 3% of the daily allowance.
  • The calculations is 2 x 9 = 18 fat calories; then 18/230 x 100% = 7.8%.
  • This is the final proof that labels are like the media, you can’t believe what you read, when the label shows 99% fat free in actuality it is only 92.2% fat free which is still ok in my book, but misleading.

Final Thoughts

Being health conscious when choosing foods can help in several ways. Weight loss and maintaining good overall health is essential in today’s society. It is apparent that even though the premise of labels is for the consumer to quickly choose a product in an increasingly hectic world, however, do the labels serve an additional purpose. Well of course they do, labels are the largest marketing ploy for the manufacturer to push their products and the consumer becomes the prey in many instances. Knowing the facts are essential and your responsibility. Know what you are putting in your body.


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    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 3 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thanks Billybuc. Yes I am a frustrating one to go with to the grocery store or even out to eat because I look up everything.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Will our society ever learn to read those darned labels? Sure, it takes longer at the grocery store, but it is so important to do so. I love articles like this one that raise awareness. Well done.