Kerry McLeod, PSHFC (Practitioner in the Science of Healthy Food Choices), is eBrandAid.coms chief Brand Doctor. Kerry became a professional label reader and expert brand selector after making the major transformation from chocolate-chomping, junk-food junkie to author, Sports Nutrition Certified Instructor, wife and mother.

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BrandAid: A Guide to Healthy Shopping

by Kerry McLeod, The Brand Doctor
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It’s the Catch-22 of dieting. In a desperate attempt to lose weight, you stock your cupboards with low-fat packaged foods. Weeks later your scale is telling you that you’ve GAINED a few pounds. So, you go out and buy even more low-fat foods and the weight gain cycle continues.

A good rule to live and diet by: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is! After reading today’s Label Lesson, you’ll want to apply this rule to most packaged foods that are labeled low-fat or even fat-free.

The Food Sleuths here at eBrandAid.com are taking a bite out of this “low-fat” scam. Read on for the details.

The lower-fat versions of packaged foods like cookies, cakes and crackers often sound like healthier alternatives. It turns out that food manufacturers frequently compensate for the lack of fat by adding in more sugar, salt, and thickeners. Sure it boosts flavor and adds texture, but it’s a ploy that merely substitutes one or more junk ingredients for another.

It really bites, but low-fat varieties usually hit you with about the same number of calories.

Case in point:
Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip Cookies - Regular vs. Reduced Fat

Decoding the Fine Print

Serving Size: 33g, 160 cals, total fat 8g (sat. fat 2.5g), sodium 110mg, sugar 11g, protein 2g

Ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Semisweet Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin - An Emulsifier), Sugar, Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Phosphate), Salt, Whey (From Milk), Natural And Artificial Flavor, Caramel Color.

Low Fat
Serving Size: 32g, 140 cals, total fat 5g (sat. fat 2g), sodium 150, sugar 11g, protein 2g

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@ 8:02am ET on May 19, 2008
Thanks for this info! I am finding that fruit is the best and easiest fast food snack going for me! Give it a wash and its good to go - and no labels to read and analyze and no additional cravings to contend with!

@ 5:31pm ET on May 26, 2008
I agree with the fruit one, and I am loving it so much, it's like a dessert for me. One example I have is honey mustard salad dressing, I was going to buy a reduced fat one and the very first ingredient was high fructose corn syrup!! And it is marketed as healthy!!

@ 11:26am ET on May 31, 2010
Thanks for the article. I agree with the two prior comments. Fruit is always the best snack option. I've heard a well-known doctor advise not to eat too much fruit b/c of the sugar. What's not said is that sugar from fruit is NATURAL, not refined.

Secondly, studies show that most Americans do not each the recommended daily allowance for fruits nor veggies, anyway--so I doubt if the millions in these numbers will "OD" on fruits. I eat my 3 servings a day. The author is so right about the low fat thing.

I see so many female co workers eating the low fat yogurts in an attempt to lose weight when the ones that they are eating (I won't name them) are very high in refined sugar! I know b/c I use to eat them until about 6 months ago I switched to greek yogurt.

Greek yogurt (except Yoplait--don't be fooled) has very low sugar (and its not refined), low carbs--which means it won't have a negative impact on your blood sugar (glucose) and won't cause your blood sugar to yo-you like a see-saw. :-)

Great article and thanks for exposing yet another deceptive trick that many food manufacturers are still unfortunately using!

@ 12:54pm ET on May 31, 2010
You don't need to spend extra bucks on flavored so-called Greek yogurt (_real_ Greek yogurt is anything but low fat, and contains no added ingredients--just whole milk and yogurt culture). You can easily make your own non-fat Greek-style yogurt. It's just yogurt that's had the whey drained out of it.

Buy any brand of plain non-fat yogurt that is not thickened with pectin, food starch, or gelatin (I prefer Nancy's, but there are others out there). The thickeners change the flavor and texture; they also keep the whey from separating out as easily. Wet a large piece of cheese cloth, wring it out, fold it in several layers and use it to line a large strainer. Make sure you have enough to leave some hanging over the edge of the strainer. Pour the yogurt into the lined strainer, and let it drain over a bowl. Let it sit for several hours, or even overnight. When it has stopped dripping, pick up the corners of the cheesecloth to form a bag-like shape. Twist the bag to squeeze any remaining whey out of the yogurt. Scrap it into a container, and you have Greek yogurt. No added sugar (some lactose may still be present) at all. Flavor it if you wish--fruit, jam, vegetables with a little olive oil, etc.

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