Food manufacturers know you're
interested in healthy
low-fat, low-cal products. And many are offering delicious new
choices that are true to their claims. But other products, for
all their promises of "multigrain goodness" and "baked
wholesomeness," are actually worse than their traditional
greasy cousins. It's not that these selections are so terrible
-- many can be a perfectly fine part of your diet. But you
shouldn't think you're saving calories or fat grams -- or
getting extra nutritional benefits.
Note: This article appeared in the October
1999 issue of Good Housekeeping and was current as of that
Watch for Sugar
Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt sounds
like a product that delivers, well, fruit. But a container of
Colombo or Breyers Strawberry Fruit On The Bottom Yogurt has
about 210 sugar-loaded calories -- and not a smidgen of the
vitamin C or fiber you might expect from a "fruit" product.
(Maybe they should call it jam-on-the-bottom?) Better bet:
eight ounces of plain yogurt, a couple of fresh strawberries
-- for 10 calories, with 28 percent of the Daily Value (DV)
for vitamin C -- and a teaspoon of honey. Total: about 130
calories and a lot less sugar.
Lemon-pepper seasoning blends (and
lemon-and-herb and garlic-pepper products) are popular picks
for people trying to cut back on salt, but some contain even
more sodium than those with the word salt in their names. For
example, McCormick Lemon & Herb Seasoning has 180
milligrams (mg) of sodium per 1/4 teaspoon, while an equal
amount of the company's Lemon Pepper Seasoning Salt has 120
mg. You'll find Nutrition Facts panels on some blends, but
because the labels on spice jars are so small, the Food and
Drug Administration doesn't require that the info appear.
Still, all products include an ingredient list -- so read the
fine print to find out if salt is included, and how high up on
the list it is.
Fruit-juice spritzers (sparkling water
with a touch of fruit juice) should be low-cal, but a beverage
like After The Fall Hawaiian Mango Spritzer or R.W. Knudsen
Family Cranberry Spritzer has at least as many calories as a
can of Coke (140) and may contain up to 36 percent more (190).
Nor are these fruit juices a significant source of any
"All Natural." Oh, Really?
"All natural" cookies
are still cookies, even if their labels advertise healthy
ingredients. Frookie Dream Creams -- cream-filled wafers made
with yogurt -- are no better than the sugar wafers you ate as
a child. A serving of either wafer packs about 140 calories,
but the Dream Creams have almost 35 percent more fat. As for
the yogurt, dream on -- all you get is a little nonfat yogurt
powder in the sweet filling.
Oatmeal products ought to be a smart bet,
because fiber-rich oats are good for the heart. Yet in many
cases (Post Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal, Pepperidge Farm Old
Fashioned Oatmeal Bread, and Nabisco Family Favorites Oatmeal
Cookies, to name a few), oats are listed third or fourth in
the ingredient list and fiber content is one gram or less.
Ditto for many bran muffins: Honey Raisin Bran Fat Free
Gourmet Muffins from the Uncle Noname Cookie Company, for
example, contain a solitary gram of fiber per serving -- the
same as a slice of white bread.
Fruit as Candy
Fruit leather may be 100 percent
fruit, but nutritionally it's closer to candy. A 1/2-ounce
serving of Stretch Island's Rare Raspberry flavor has 45
calories -- about the same as 3/4 cup of fresh raspberries.
But while the fresh fruit also supplies 40 percent of the
recommended amount of vitamin C and more than six grams of
fiber, the fruit leather contains a mere two percent of the DV
for C and only one gram of fiber.
Multigrain cereal bars with fruit
(such as Entenmann's Multi-Grain Cereal Bars with raspberries)
appear to be a wholesome, timesaving (and portable)
alternative to a bowl of cold cereal with bananas or berries.
But the two are far from equal: With an average of 140
calories, three grams of fat, and minimal fiber, a
fruit-and-cereal bar is closer to half an English muffin
smeared with a little margarine and a lot of jam than it is to
a helping of whole-grain cereal with fruit and milk -- which
also supplies fiber, calcium, and other nutrients.
Vegetable crackers may help
you feel better about snacking, but they won't get you a
single mouthful closer to the five-a-day fruit-and-vegetable
goal. The trace amount of "vegetables" in the crackers --
usually a dehydrated veggie blend -- is way down on the
Part-skim and soy cheeses are not
always wise substitutes for full-fat wedges. Jarlsberg, which
is part-skim, packs 100 calories and eight fat grams per
ounce, about the same as whole-milk cheeses like Gouda,
Muenster, or Swiss. And soy cheeses, while usually lower in
fat, can cheat you out of calcium. A one-ounce slice of
regular Cheddar or American cheese supplies 175 to 205 mg of
this bone-building mineral, but soy alternatives, unless
they're fortified, offer little or none.
Turkey and Chicken
Turkey or chicken franks sound
lean, but you may be losing more taste than fat. A Jennie-O
Jumbo Turkey Frank (Hormel) has 130 calories and 11 fat grams;
Gwaltney Great Dogs Chicken Franks, 140 calories and 10 fat
grams each. A Boar's Head Brand Beef Frankfurter -- which is
only a little smaller (1.6 ounces instead of two ounces) --
has just 120 calories and 11 fat grams. Even "lower-fat" hot
dogs aren't always so skinny. The Gwaltney version, made from
chicken and pork, has 160 calories and 12 grams of fat.
Coffee drinks are innocent
compared to milk shakes -- if you keep them simple. A cup
of unsweetened cappuccino made with skim milk probably
won't tally up more than 50 calories, but a lot of
coffee-bar beverages are like desserts in a cup. A 9.5-ounce bottle
of Starbucks Frappuccino has 190 calories -- about the same as
a cup of reduced-fat chocolate milk. And the "grande"
(16-ounce) Caff-- Mocha -- made with espresso, cocoa, steamed milk, and
a cap of whipped cream -- has 420 calories and 23 grams of fat,
about what you would get from two marble-frosted Dunkin'
PopcornDry-roasted nuts have about the same calories
and fat as oil-roasted ones, ranging from 163 calories and 13
grams fat in one ounce of cashews to 204 calories and 22 grams
of fat in macadamias. This also holds true for raw (unroasted)
Air-popped popcorn can be full of more
than hot air. Though certain brands really are fat-free,
others are sprayed with fat after popping. Bachman Air Popped
Popcorn has an astonishing 170 calories and 11 fat grams per
ounce (vegetable oil is the second ingredient). You'd actually
save calories by snacking on potato chips instead (150
calories, 10 grams of fat per ounce). Baked connotes the
opposite of fried, but think about it -- a lot of the most
fattening things are baked, from brownies to chocolate-chip
cookies. Some baked foods are truly low-fat, but even bagel
chips can have up to six fat grams per serving. Be wary of
crackers too. Most are baked; it's really a question of
whether they're generously "flavored" with fat before they go
in the oven.
Ice Cream and Yogurt
Low-fat ice cream and frozen
yogurt (depending on the brand and flavor) may have more
calories than the full-fat versions. Breyers All Natural
Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream, for example, has a cool 150 calories
per half-cup, while Ben & Jerry's Lowfat Cherry Garcia
Frozen Yogurt contains 170 calories for the same small scoop.
And many Ben & Jerry's Lowfat Ice Cream flavors are even
higher, with as many as 190 calories per half-cup. Although
regular ice cream does have more fat, it doesn't have to blow
your diet -- many varieties have only four to six grams of fat
and 100 to 150 calories per serving.
Fat-free Parmesan cheese doesn't save
you much fat -- but it will cost you big time on calcium.
Regular Kraft Parmesan Cheese sprinkles on 1.5 fat grams per
two-teaspoon serving, along with 60 mg of calcium. The
fat-free variety? The same 20 calories but no calcium -- or
No-sugar-added baked goods seem like a sweet deal
for fans of the Sugarbusters diet. But the "guilt-free"
pumpkin pie we found in a suburban supermarket bake shop had
340 calories per slice. Mrs. Smith's Hearty Pumpkin Pie
(frozen) has only 240 calories per serving!
toppings are no great shakes -- a serving of six Pepperidge
Farm Fat Free Spicy Italian Big & Crunchy Croutons adds 30
calories to your plate -- exactly the amount you'd get from
the company's regular Big & Crunchy Croutons in Olive Oil
& Garlic flavor (one gram fat). Zero-fat salad dressing
may not be a bargain either: Kraft Free Creamy Italian has 60
calories (the same as Kraft Caesar Parmesan Vinaigrette, which
tastes better). Try cutting calories, not taste -- Kraft Seven
Seas 1/3 Less Fat Viva Italian Dressing has 45 calories per
A four-ounce fat-free muffin from the
grocery-store bake shop sounds like a real deal at 130
calories. But read the fine print and you'll see that the
value is for half the muffin -- and who has ever been known to
stop at that? Have you noticed how big bagels have grown? Each
can equal up to five or six slices of bread, or some 360 to
400 calories. Go for a mini version or scoop out some of the
Jumbo cookies like all-natural
Monster Cookies (distributed by Tree of Life) are ample enough to feed
a whole family's sweet tooth. A serving of the carob-chip
variety (140 calories) is just a fifth of the cookie. Eat the
whole thing and regret it an astonishing 700 calories and 35
fat grams later.
If beverages aren't in standard
12-ounce cans, read nutrition stats carefully. A 16-ounce
container is two servings, and the calories listed are for
Please don't forget about drinking water...