Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
27 May

WTF?… Where’s The Fat?!

As a loyal Worker Bee ever-skeptical of Conventional Wisdom, I’ve always been puzzled over the idea of fat free versions of fat and cream-based foods. Fat-free mayo, fat-free whipped cream (er, just what the hell are they whipping?), fat-free cheese – how are they wrought? What manner of culinary wizardry can make a delicious, creamy version of ranch dressing without all that artery-clogging fat? They must be doing something right, because they almost outnumber their full-fat counterparts on the shelves. And the people I see frequenting the aisles are always trim, slim, and full of vitality. Plus, what with the nationwide rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease plummeting to all-time lows just as the fat-free movement finally seems to be picking up steam, I think we can thank the good folks of Kraft, Best Foods, and Lean Cuisine for their commitment to public health.

And so I set out to peruse the aisles of the local supermarket for evidence of these shining beacons of health and chemical ingenuity. I hoped to discover the secrets so that I might recreate the delectable food products at home and avoid messing up my kitchen with “recipes” and “raw meat” and “food.”

Fat-Free Ranch

Now, I’m not a huge fan of the conventional, full-fat versions of bottled dressing, but something about a zero-fat version of a dressing that normally has a base of sour cream, mayonnaise, and buttermilk just doesn’t seem right (or even really possible). As I understand it, ranch is supposed to be creamy and thick; mayo, sour cream, and buttermilk would take care of that. So what does Kraft put in its fat-free dressing to make it creamy?

A quick look at the first online ranch dressing recipe to pop up on Google mentions a few basic elements: mayo, sour cream, buttermilk, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar, dill, various herbs. It sounds pretty tasty and, though it may not be completely Primal, reasonably edible. At least it’s all real food (provided you make the mayo yourself, of course). As for the Kraft fat-free ranch dressing? First four ingredients, in order, are water, corn syrup, vinegar, and high fructose corn syrup. Mmmm… nothing makes a delicious, creamy sauce even creamier like water! The doubling up on corn syrup varieties? Genius! I’ve always said that regular corn syrup just isn’t the worth the trouble without a healthy dollop of high fructose corn syrup added to the mix. Next are whey, modified food starch, and salt rounding out the bulk of the ingredients. The last six lines are dedicated to a number of chemicals, agents, colorings, and flavorings, all of which comprise less than 2% of the finished product. I’d imagine it’s the modified food starch that makes it “creamy,” especially when combined with some nice, thick corn syrup and seasoned with disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate. The carbs per serving are 11g, only 3g of which are sugars… where’d all the corn syrup go? Is this even food?

Jokes, aside, I’m not saying the full-fat versions of these bottled dressings are good for you. After all, they’re usually made with oils like soybean or canola and rich in polyunsaturated fats, not to mention the sugar. But at least the poor bastards who slather their iceberg wedges with the stuff aren’t lying to themselves about health. This fat-free stuff, though, comes with no guilt attached. In fact, it’s even called “Free Ranch.” Free, as in: don’t hold back!

At least there’s no fat, right?

Fat-Free Mayonnaise

Again, what the hell? Good mayo comes from high quality oils blended with egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, and pepper. Without fat to emulsify, where is Kraft possibly getting the creaminess (note: regarding whether the fat-free mayo could actually be accurately described as “creamy” is unknown; I was unable – or unwilling – to verify this claim with a taste test)?

A quick look at the ingredient list gave me the culprits. Modified food starch, our old friend, was back, along with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and a touch of soybean oil. Soybean oil? But how do they include oil while excluding fat? Perhaps the alchemists at Kraft have isolated the “oily, viscous, emulsifiable” properties from the evil lipids themselves. Hats off, gentlemen.

Whatever they did, they came up with an amazing condiment. An entire tablespoon contains only 10 calories, 2g carbs (1g sugar), and little else (maybe a bit of magic?). Spread that on some whole wheat with a few slices of imitation deli meat and a slice of fat-free cheese, and you’ve got yourself a hell of sandwich. Sure, you might get a blast of insulin released into your blood, but who’s keeping track?

Fat-Free “Cheese”

This, I don’t get at all. As if processed cheese product in plastic sleeves wasn’t bad enough, the American Heart Association, drawing on its infinite wisdom, puts their stamp on fat-free, American-Flavored (what exactly does American Flavor taste like? I’ll pass, thanks) Smart Slices. Strangely, these guys don’t even try to pass their “food” off as cheese; nowhere on the package is there any allusion to real food of any kind.

There’s even a comparison chart between “pasteurized process cheese food” and Smart Slices (wow, way to set the bar high, guys), which Smart Slices “wins.” There sure are a lot of claims being made on the package, though. Cholesterol free. Lactose free. “Healthy fat free non-dairy slices.” Slices? At least Kraft calls its stuff “food product.” These guys can’t even legally say their product is food.

I do like how its counterpart to the left, Veggie Slices, feels it’s necessary to proclaim, “Melts great!” All this “Healthy! Fat free! Delicious! Melts great! Fights heart disease!” stuff makes me think of Shakespeare: “Now the lady doth protest too much.”

I won’t even get into the ingredients, except to say that yes, modified food starch plays an integral role.

Cool Whip

Instead of fresh whipped cream, health nuts descend upon these tubs of whipped hydrogenated vegetable oil. Yes, that’s what this stuff is made of – along with water, corn syrups, various gums and chemicals. The oils are coconut and palm kernel, but they are fully (not partially; these people don’t mess around!) hydrogenated for maximum shelf life.

Curiously, there are extensive instructions for long term home storage on the package, including how to freeze and thaw the tubs effectively. Are people really buying this much Cool Whip at once? Why?

Oh, and don’t stir your cool whip; it apparently exists in a fragile state of fluffy creaminess and “excessive stirring… will cause product to soften and become watery.” Hey – it ain’t easy turning hydrogenated vegetable oil into whipped cream. It’s a delicate process!

Being oil, there is a bit of fat remaining. 1.5g, to be exact, and it’s saturated(!), so don’t expect any stamps of approval from the AHA anytime soon. That stuff kills, you know.

Slow Churned Ice Cream

The makers of industrial ice cream have happened upon an ingenious new marketing buzzword: churned. While you may hear the word and think of robust maidens with Popeye-forearms slaving over a barrel of fresh milk, that’s not what passes for churning these days. Nowadays, gigantic vats of reduced fat cream and milk are subjected to enormous mechanical churners that “churn slow” so as to keep temperatures down, “stretching and distributing” the fat molecules widely and sticking pockets of air in between. The result, they say, tricks our taste buds into thinking the ice cream contains normal levels of butterfat.

The sugar, of course, remains the same.

Coffee-Mate

Dairy-free creamer sounds insane, especially when it’s packed with tons of sugar and corn syrup, but I thought I’d draw your attention to something very interesting. Apparently, Nestle has created a new type of fat. If you look at the nutrition facts for their French Vanilla flavor, they list 1.5g of total fat – without clarifying as to what type of fat we’re talking about. Is it saturated? Nope, 0g of that. Is it monounsaturated? 0g of that, too. There’s also no trans nor polyunsaturated fats, according to the label. So what did those wily chemists come up with this time?

The reality is that as long as a product contains less than half a gram of fat, it can be labeled “fat free.” The same goes for the various types of fat. If a product has 0.25g of PUFA, it can be listed as having 0g. Some might consider this pretty devious and dastardly; I just look at it like Nestle is giving us a fun new game to play (with our health): guess the lipids!

The End

Immediately after snapping the last photo of cheese-esque sliced product, I was approached by the manager. In a calm, but forceful tone, he asked me to explain myself. “Taking pictures,” I said, taking the obvious route. “You need permission from Ralph’s to do that,” he replied.

We both knew he had me. I didn’t have permission from Ralph’s (I didn’t even know how to contact “Ralph’s”; was he referring to the corporate office – who would undoubtedly disapprove of my objectives – or the actual, legendary Ralph himself?) and I didn’t have a good enough explanation. From the looks of him, he wasn’t an MDA reader, so that angle wouldn’t work. I actually pictured this mild-mannered regional manager dashing my camera to the floor and stomping on it for good measure; this would confirm my conspiratorial, sneaking suspicions that the whole store was complicit in knowingly peddling unhealthy fare disguised as nutritious food. But he did not, instead regarding me with friendly eyes until I let myself out, camera intact and pictures secure.

My trip to the inner aisles of the grocery store left me in a state of disbelief. I knew what I was in for, but I still came out amazed. I’m amazed that people can continue to deceive themselves into thinking what they’re eating is actually food, let alone healthy food, and I’m amazed at the cunning of food marketing that plays off this deceit. While it’s sad that the American Heart Association actually promotes some of these products as “heart-healthy,” I can’t say I’m surprised.

I soon returned to the comfortably Primal confines of MDA headquarters, confident that I had made the sound dietary choice and telling myself I would heretofore stick only to the perimeters of the grocery store.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Just got my book! Well done!
    My last holdout was Ranch dressing. Then about 4 months ago I saw the recipes here and started making my own. I use a variation of EV Olive oil and red or while wine vinegar with dill, mustard and whatever else interests me that’s Real Food. I’ve never looked back.
    I too have friends that are trying to lose weight, have diabetes etc. I try to tell them they can’t eat Jenny Craig food for the rest of their life. And there are others that relish living in their misery of being an overweight “victim”. You know “poor me” etc etc. So yes, you can push more, but some people just have defined themselves as victims or can’t think for themselves.

    Dave, RN wrote on May 28th, 2009
  2. My book arrived (in Australia) earlier this week and I am entering the world of Krok and 68 years of age with a heart attack, coronary bypass and 2 stents. I quir Lipitor a year ago and have been somewhat following Nourishing Traditions” for about 18 months. Kept eating too much bread and rice though. am finding some hunger without the grains after a meal ( Curry just doesn’t seem the same without rice ) I have a beef and vegetable curry in the slow cooker at home and nearly threw in some been sprouts. Mark is silent on sprouts (I think) which some others maintain are OK as sprouting eliviates the problem with beans. Any one care to comment on sprouts?

    comley wrote on May 28th, 2009
  3. I love this guy – I have never heard these kinds of things said in quite this manner. I wanted to say that I did try the fat free mayo – ONCE – i bought it on accident accually and almost didn’t even open it – and be sure to note that if you like mayo like I do Never do this. one tsp ruined my whole hamburger – it was discusting.

    Jennie wrote on May 29th, 2009
  4. And they talk about Micky D’s!! Is that fake mystery meat also? I don’t eat that junk anyway.

    Jeri wrote on May 29th, 2009
  5. Don’t fret Mark – Hellmann’s (aka best Foods) makes

    “…Mayonnaise Dressing With Extra Virgin Olive Oil is creamy and delicious with the added great taste of Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It’s lower in fat than regular mayonnaise and a great complement to a healthy diet.”

    INGREDIENTS: WATER, OILS (SOYBEAN OIL, EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL*), VINEGAR, WHOLE EGGS AND EGG YOLKS, MODIFIED CORN STARCH*, SUGAR, SALT, LEMON JUICE, (SORBIC ACID*, CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA) USED TO PROTECT QUALITY, XANTHAN GUM*, CITRIC ACID*, NATURAL FLAVORS, OLEORESIN PAPRIKA, BETA CAROTENE* (COLOR). GLUTEN-FREE.
    *INGREDIENT NOT IN MAYONNAISE

    Danielle wrote on May 29th, 2009
  6. Its probably much healthier and a good shortcut to buy fat free dressing (with little to no HFCS in it), and then add your own healthy oil to dilute it to appropriate strength.

    When I buy bottled dressing with any canola oil in it, it ALWAYS smells rancid. That’s doubly bad.

    Andrea wrote on May 29th, 2009
    • Um, eww! Have you ever tasted how nasty fat free dressing is? No amount of my own oil, no matter how good it might be, is going to improve on the taste of that junk.

      musajen wrote on May 29th, 2009
  7. Follow the money! Some years back I did a breakdown, UK numbers and prices will have changed since but not the percentages. Yours may differ because you grow corn which is converted to HFCS.

    Wheat and potatoes £100/tonne ex farm
    Bread £1000/tonne
    Breakfast cereal £4000/tonne
    Potato chips £14900/tonne

    You’ll be lucky to find any fats which the Food Industry can mark up that much, rape (Canola) comes closest.

    They extract starch from the wheat or potatoes, sugar from the beets, HFCS from the corn etc. and replace expensive fats with these cheap substitutes, then charge a premium price for the Healthy Low Fat label.

    “Our Father Which art in Washington, give us this day our daily calcium propionate, sodium diacetate monoglyceride, potassium bromate, calcium phosphate, monobasic chloramine T, aluminium potassiumsulphate, sodium benzoate, butylated hydroxyanisole, mono-iso-propyl citrate, axerophthol and calciferol. Include with it a little flour and salt. Amen.”

    John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up, c. 1970

    Trinkwasser wrote on May 30th, 2009
  8. I love the way you tell us like it is!! Thanks for this blog!

    Kelly wrote on May 31st, 2009
  9. could someone please tell me what’s wrong with canola oil?

    Em wrote on June 1st, 2009
    • I don’t know much, but I know it’s a highly processed oil. Why use it when we have all these other natural fast to use?

      Arlo wrote on June 1st, 2009
    • High in polyunsaturated fats which go rancid quickly. It is also very high in omega-6 (linoleic acid), excessive levels of which are associated with a battery of diseases, including heart disease and depression.

      Marnee wrote on October 7th, 2009
      • Check out the article on Canola on the Weston Price foundation website–you will never go near the stuff again. It’s the ultimate franken-food. Rape seed genetically engineered and processed to make it non-lethal (barely).

        Louise D. wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  10. What puzzles me even more and I have been thinking about this recently are zero calorie food and beverages. What is the point.

    Robert wrote on February 20th, 2010
  11. I am so happy I am finally consuming whole, natural foods. All of this disgusts me and makes me want to puke.

    Eating this shit for many years growing up sure is going to kill you.

    Todd wrote on April 19th, 2010
  12. Okay, I am a newbie here and have been primal for about two weeks.

    Where does real mayo fit in? Can I have it? I admit my favorite dinner is 10 ounces of lean poached chicken breast shredded into a chicken salad. The mayo makes it. I figure the fat from the mayo is okay because I am not eating carbs, so I’m burning fat.

    Obviously, you don’t want a lot of Best Foods/Hellmans’ real mayo in your diet overall… but is the mayo I’m eating okay with the primal diet or should I avoid it?

    CBC wrote on April 21st, 2010
    • Avoid it at all costs. It’s nothing but soybean oil or liquid death.

      Use the search at the top and find the homemade condiments page. I believe there’s a recipe on here for an olive oil version.

      Grok wrote on April 23rd, 2010
      • If you don’t like olive oil, then you can use almond oil, walnut oil, avocado oil or a mixture of the three. There’s hazelnut oil….pecan oil…I’ve even seen pistachio and pumpkin seed oils.

        My favorite is almond oil. These make a very nice mayo with little of the flavor of the oil for those who can’t stand even the thought of olives :-)

        GHarkness wrote on May 31st, 2010
  13. There is a special kind of Spanish Mayo called Alioli which is made exclusively from Olive Oil. All of our UK ones have vegetable oil in them.

    sarah wrote on September 1st, 2010
  14. I loved that you actually brought that up!
    Everytime I hear someone say “I had a sandwich with fat free mayonnaise”.. I always tell them that there is no such thing as FAT FREE MAYONNAISE unless it is NOT mayonnaise! People do not even know that Mayonnaise is made out of egg yolk and oil! I was dumbfounded that people actually believe fat free products exist! They are not the real deal!All of which are made from synthetic and chemically altered ingredients!
    I am glad you wrote this article because I always wondered if I was the only one who was thinking
    THANK YOU!
    Happy Healthy New year :)

    kelly wrote on December 31st, 2010
  15. Seriously, if anyone knew anything about nutrition you would know that fat is an essential macronutrient. It is required to perform a variety of phisiological functions. FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT! IT’S CALLED MODERATION!

    Alex wrote on April 24th, 2012
  16. Mark, great writing and I do love the sarcasm too! You could have even gone to your local “natural” foods store or Wal-er, I mean Whole Foods and found the same low fat,”healthy” foods too! I am amazed at the amount of these foods on the center aisles of all markets! Thanks for all you are doing!

    Mikki wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  17. I make my own low fat ranch dressing by substituting plain Greek yogurt for mayo. It has a slightly different flavor, but it’s still really good, and much healthier. If you wanted you could use 1/2 mayo and 1/2 yogurt. That would still cut some calories and not change the flavor quite as much…

    Katie wrote on July 18th, 2012
  18. I don’t see how a fat free cheese is difficult. I myself using semi-dried skim milk-I did it myself, some fat free dried milk powder, and dried frozen microbial agent made very tasty fat free cheese. Yorgurt is even easier, just by adding some none homonized yogurt by a tea spoon. I also make mayo, but with some fat-which I really don’t mind, because for a tub of mayo I use about two large table spoon full of olive oil.

    John wrote on August 7th, 2012
  19. Great Article!
    One of the most disgusting items I have ever put into my mouth was a ‘low-fat’ Chocolate Brownie. It was dry, tasteless and totally indigestible. The worst by far was a protein bar from one of those bodybuilding shops. After one mouthful I spat it out and rinsed my mouth out thoroughly.

    Norfolk Andy wrote on September 13th, 2012
  20. I was searching for the ingredients to low fat cheese because I was telling a friend it wasn’t good for you. This page popped up. And even tho it is a few years ago, you sure have opened my eyes to everything else you mentioned – OH MY GOSH. We cut out white sugars (and all derivatives) several years ago, and thought I knew all the sneaky ways it is added – but this sure was amazing to read! You’d be better off making your own! I buy my cheese from a lady who makes it with raw milk and it is amazing. I can’t eat a lot but when I do get to eat some, it at least is full of flavor and I KNOW what else is in it! Keep up the good work.

    nan wrote on May 11th, 2013
  21. First – you are an amazing writer Mark! I love the “voice” you put in these posts.

    It’s disturbing how pretty much all of these contains corn syrup of some kind or another. I guess it just goes to show, when you take out the fat, you take out flavor, so they replace all that fat with sugar. :(

    Heda wrote on May 18th, 2013
  22. People often ask me “How do you stay so thin?” I reply with a list of things that rarely or never cross my lips, at least on purpose: HFCS, sucralose, aspartame, hydrogenated oils, 90% of grains, caffeine, fast food, soda (unless made with cane sugar, and regarded as a treat), ice-cream-sundaes disguised as “coffee,” flavored creamers that don’t need to be refrigerated, packaged “healthy” snack bars, frozen microwave meals, canned pasta . . . bascially everything I see in the other carts at the grocery store. And when their eyes start glazing over, I say “But I can eat all the “one-ingredient” foods I want–like non-processed meat, wild caught salmon, farm-fresh eggs, spinach, tomatoes, garlic, onions, zucchini, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes, broccoli, quinoa, toasted coconut, almonds, cranberries . . . basically, stuff without labels. I love having this conversation with people *during* a meal so they can see the sheer volume of food I eat. I do not starve myself! And if I overeat, well, then I need about 90 minutes of exercise per week instead of 75 minutes to fit into my size 4 jeans. Whew!

    Paula wrote on September 25th, 2013

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