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


Faith Billingham
Faith Billingham5 years ago

Great article, thanks for sharing :)

Vural K.
Past Member 8 years ago



George B.
George Butel9 years ago

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.

Carl S.
Carl S9 years ago

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.

Becky Gonzales
Becky Gonzales9 years ago

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!

Debra S.
Debra S9 years ago

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.

Theresa Tocco

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

Chris T.
Chris T9 years ago

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.

Heike H.
Heike H9 years ago

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.

Amalthea Lalaith
Amalthea Lalaith9 years ago

Fat free half and half is kind of an oxymoron.

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