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Healthy Weight Center

% Fat on Nutitional Food Labels

03/12/2009

Question:

When a food product is labeled 99% fat free, ex. milk, the calories from fat is 20 out of a total of 100 calories. The gram count is 2.5g fat, 8g protein, 12g carbohydrates. None of these numbers would calculate to 99% fat free. What is the calculation the gives 99% fat free? Is the % fat on labels misleading?

Answer:

Great question. Welcome to the world of product marketing! The label you've described is indeed a bit misleading.

Manufacturers use the "percent fat" claim on a product label to represent the percentage of fat by weight. Have you ever heard the saying "fat floats"? Fat (by weight) is not very heavy. So, it is true that the milk you have purchased may only contain 1% of the total weight in fat (or "99% fat free"). The same marketing gimmick is used in "98% fat free hot dogs", lunch meat and other products. Pretty sneaky, eh?

In order to find out the true percentage of fat calories, take the number of fat grams in the product and multiply it by nine. There are 9 calories per gram of fat, so this number represents calories from fat.

Next, divide that number by the total calories. Multiply that number by 100, and voila! You have the percent of calories from fat.

So, for the milk you purchased: 2.5 X 9 = 22.5 22.5/100 = .225 .225 X 100 = 22.5% fat

* The number of fat calories listed on the label states 20 because the number was rounded down.

In order for a food to be considered "low fat", it must have less than 3 grams of fat per serving, or contain 30% or less of its` total calories from fat. So, the milk you have (1% milk I believe), is considered low fat.

Ironically, 2% milk is labeled "low fat", but by strict definition, it is not. It contains 5 grams of fat per serving. However, because whole milk (4% milkfat) contains 10 grams of fat, and 2% milk contains half this amount, it is allowed to be labeled "low fat". If a food has been modified to contain 30% or less fat calories than the original version of the product, it may be labeled "low fat" or "reduced fat". Again, very sly marketing tool.

I hope this cleared up your confusion. For more information on label reading and laws, check out the website below.

For more information:

Go to the Healthy Weight Center health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati