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Beware Fat-Free Claims

Beware Fat-Free Claims

Q: I am having a hard time finding out the answer to my question anywhere which is concerning products such as fat-free half and half, fat-free Cool Whip, and Coffee-Mate Lite. They look like they would be perfect to use in unlimited quantities but I see on the labels that they have partially hydrogenated oils and coconut and palm oils, so I am very confused. Can you please help me unravel this mystery? Are these products as heart healthy as they look? Thank you so much.

A: I think most of the manufacturers of these products would call them “healthier for you foods” rather than health foods.

The answer to your question is a simple one. FDA labeling requirements establish that a food can be trans fat or fat free if there is less than a certain amount of fats PER SERVING. This is why something can be labeled as fat free and still contain fats in the list of ingredients.

The same goes for calories. A product can be “essentially” calorie free PER SERVING, but if you sit down and eat many servings at once, you may be consuming many more calories than you planned.

Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting

Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at

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Dr. Brent

As an undergraduate, Dr. Brent Ridge majored in public health and environmental science, studying the way the state of the natural environment impacts our health choices. As a physician, he specializes in the field of aging. Send your health questions to Dr. Brent at


+ add your own
1:38AM PDT on Apr 15, 2012

Great article, thanks for sharing :)

1:55AM PDT on Jun 15, 2009



11:45AM PST on Dec 11, 2008

The Center for Science in the Public Interest states that the only safe amount of partly-hydrogenated fat in your diet is zero, i.e., none, zilch, makers have redefined "zero" so that it can be any amount up to half a gram per serving--just to deceive the public. You could not pay me to put Cool Whip in my kitchen. Don't buy ANYTHING that has the words "partly hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" in the label. Don't buy anything if the label says "margarine" anywhere in the ingredient list either: virtually all margarines (Smart Balance is a healthy exception) contain partly hydrogenated oils.

10:46AM PST on Dec 11, 2008

Its best to whip your own. You control the ingredients. Anything they sell in stores is questionable. But coffee mate and cool whip are especially night mares because they contain partially hydrogenated oils which, in the end is much, much worse for you than the cream! Those non-dairy creamers and whips are chemical dumps being scooped onto (all too often), cakes and pies loaded with preservatives and industrial oils. There is just no getting around it. If you want to truly eat healthy, you pretty much have to learn to cook. My wife has several neurological conditions made worse by chemicals in food and personal toiletries. I had no choice but to learn about nutrition, cooking and healthy eating. Its inconvenient but TOTALLY worth it. We try to only expose our bodies to all natural things. Cool whip and coffee mate are a definite NO.

8:19AM PST on Dec 11, 2008

Adding coconut oil is probably the only thing good they did with those products...except that they have partially homogenized it before adding it so that sort of eliminated that "good". I agree with going for the real cream but make sure it's organic as the fat is what collects the most pesticide/pharmaceutical contaminates in the milk. Best yet...go for fresh out of the cow, no homoginization and enjoy!

7:50AM PST on Dec 11, 2008

OH my, I say, use the real whipping cream if you are going to indulge. God made it, you are making a special dessert- you aren't going to eat everyday. Cream is natural, it's FAR far more healthy than those cool whip monstrosities.

6:16AM PST on Dec 11, 2008

Not to mention the fact that taking out fat means adding lots of HFCS. Read the Label! Theresa T.

6:14AM PST on Dec 11, 2008

Just to back up Heike entirely but to add that we've found that many low-fat or fat-free products have masses of added sugar to compensate.

6:03AM PST on Dec 11, 2008

Well, once you take out the fat, which is not only flavour carrier, but also emulsifier you have to add not only artificial flavour but some kind of starch which is one kind of carbohydrate which our food is overloaded with anyways. Fat is essential for forming new cell membranes, but in moderation just like protein and carbohydrates.

1:23PM PST on Dec 10, 2008

Fat free half and half is kind of an oxymoron.

Health claims can be so confusing. =/
Thanks for this article.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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