“Only 10% fat!” “Less than one calorie!” Sound familiar? Sounds perfect. The trouble is, the packaging is not telling the whole truth. As consumers, we are constantly being told to check the labels on our foods to make sure we are eating a healthy diet – but how can we be sure that what we are reading is right?
“We are led to believe that eating well is so much simpler now that the major supermarkets are making sure that they clearly label their products with the amount of sugar, fat, calories, sodium etc,” says Alex, “but it is not that simple. Unfortunately, people are being fooled into thinking they are buying healthy products that are low in fat, when in fact they are often quite the opposite.
“The manufacturers only have to say what percentage of the grams are made up of fat and what this means in real terms is that they can call a product which only has 9.9g of fat per 100g “less than 10% fat”. But, the three main macronutrients – protein, carbohydrate and fat – are not made equally. Fat is over twice as dense in calories than protein or carbohydrate; 1g of protein is equal to 4kcal as is 1g of carbohydrate, but 1g of fat contains 9kcal.
“The food label on a bag of porridge oats is a good example of how food labels can be misleading. The label shows that per 100g, the oats contain 9.7g of protein, 74.7g of carbohydrate, and 4.8g fat, a total of 381 calories. Food manufacturers would therefore claim this product is “less than 5% fat” because 4.8g in 100g is just 4.8%. But, as the body consumes calories we need work it out that way:
Calories = 381kcal
Protein 9.7g x 4 (calories) = 38.8 = 10% (38.8/381)
Carbohydrate 74.7 x 4 = 298.8 = 78%
Fat 4.8 x 9 = 43.2 = 11%
“It is clear now that porridge is actually 11% fat, which may come as a surprise to many for what is one of the healthiest breakfast foods you can get.”
Another example is cooking oil. Many cooking oil products claim to have just one calorie, but the small print shows that to get a calorie’s worth of cooking oil, the serving needs to be 0.2ml. “Well, to get that amount out of the bottle would mean holding the nozzle down for about a third of a second – try it, and I bet you end up with more!” says Alex, “This is yet another example of how packaging and marketing stay within the law, but at the same time, confuse the general public who may not understand some of the science.”
The bottom line is, fat is an important part of a healthy balanced diet – hormones are cholesterol based – but it must be the right fat. To eat well, remove all hydrogenated fats from your diet – these are generally found in pre-packaged convenience foods – and limit the amount of saturated fat – a saturated fat by definition is solid at room temperature; eg, butter, fat on meat. The majority of your fat supply should be in the form of unsaturated fats. These include Omega 3 and Omega 6, which are found in oily fish, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds. “To sum up,” says Alex, “fat is good, fat is essential, but it is the sources of fat intake that really constitutes good or bad fat levels.”
Alex is based at Kinetic Fitness in Bristol – visit the website, www.kineticfitness.co.uk, for more information.