Are you being misled by food labels?

Kellie Collins

Are you one of those people whose kitchen cupboards are full of products that scream 85% fat-free or 90% fat-free, or even better, 95% fat-free? But what does 95% fat-free actually mean and how useful is this information to consumers? And how do these products, which are heavily advertised and marketed, compare to similar products that don’t make any fat-free claims?

We are all so overwhelmed with numbers and percentages that it is more and more difficult to make informed choices.

Percent fat-free claims on food products are potentially misleading to consumers, and many standard foods could be better food choices than these apparently ‘guilt-free’ products.

If you think about it, a product that claims to be 80% fat-free still contains 20 grams of fat for every 100 grams of food - that is a pretty hefty amount of fat!

The guidelines for fat intake from the health authorities are to eat a diet with less than 35% energy from fat. On packaging, percentages are expressed in terms of grams of fat per grams of product, or percentage fat by WEIGHT.

In reality, it would be more useful if this was expressed in terms of calories from fat as a percentage of total calories, or percentage ENERGY from fat.

For example, if a product weighs 100 grams and contains 100 calories with 5 grams of fat, it actually provides 45 % of energy from fat (since each gram of fat gives 9 calories), yet it could be marketed as 95% fat free.

Although this sounds very appealing to the consumer, this 95% fat free food would have a higher fat content by energy than recommended.

In order for a product to claim that it is low in fat, it must contain no more than 3% fat by weight and have no more than 3 grams of fat in a serving. So ‘low-fat’ claims are a useful guideline but don’t tell the full story.

So folks, I guess the only solution is to start reading the labels – and by that I mean the nutrition panel at the back of the wrapper and not just the bit proclaiming ‘fat-free’!

Hopefully, these labels will soon be phased out but, in the meantime, doing your sums can really show the truth behind the shiny labels.

So remember the golden rule – aim for less than 3% fat by weight and 35% energy from fat - any more than that and you’ll tip the scales the wrong way!

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