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Low-fat losers & winners.

Low-fat is in. In 1996, 2,076 new low-fat foods made their debut in the supermarket, according to New Product News, a newsletter that tracks the food industry.

Good news? Yes. Low-fat foods are better than high-fat foods.

But not all low-fat foods are good for you. In some cases, that should be obvious. Low-fat--or fat-free--versions of cakes, cookies, and ice cream are better than their fatty cousins. Does that mean they're healthy? No more so than soft drinks, popsicles, lollipops, and other low-fat junk foods.

But some low-fat foods may appear healthier than they are. Here are six "low-fat losers." Most are flawed foods that were never too fatty to begin with. They're just taking a ride on the "low-fat" bandwagon.

In contrast, our four "low-fat winners," though not always perfect, are worth the fat savings. And remember: The real winners rarely come with "low-fat" labels. They're fresh fruits and vegetables.

White Flour & Sugar Bars

Like Nutri-Grain and SnackWell's cereal bars, Entenmann's new bars sport that all-important "Low Fat" label.

You could do worse (say, with a fatty granola bar, a doughnut, a danish, or a muffin). But you could also do better (with a whole grain cereal or whole wheat toast and fruit).

Take Entenmann's Multi-Grain Real Apple Raisin Chewy Cereal Bars. They're mostly white flour and sugar. Want one of those "real apples" on the label? You'd have to eat roughly 70 bars to get it.

White Crackers

SnackWell's Wheat Crackers are "made with the wholesome goodness of wheat." So are Saltines, Ritz, and virtually every cracker in the store. "Wheat" flour is nothing more than run-of-the-mill refined white flour. Nabisco adds whole wheat flour, but--judging by the low fiber levels--not much.

Lots of other crackers--like Finn Crisp, Wasa Hearty or Light Rye Crispbread, and Reduced Fat Triscuits--are low in fat and are all whole grain. And they taste better, to boot.

Betty's Baloney

"With busy schedules, it's hard to get your family to eat right," says the young, made-over Betty Crocker on the label of SweetRewards Fat Free Double Fudge Brownies.

"Eating a variety of foods, including snacks, can help ensure that you get an adequate supply of nutrients. SweetRewards Snack Bars are perfect anytime. And because they taste so great, your family won't even guess they're fat-free."

She's gotta be kidding. Some snacks may supply decent amounts of vitamins and other nutrients. But Betty's brownies don't. Snacking on (even fat-free) junk means busy families don't snack on fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods.

Cup-a-Salt

Lipton's Chicken Noodle with White Meat Cup-a-Soup is indeed a "Low Fat Snack." It's also a low-chicken, swimming-in-salt snack (540 mg of sodium per 3/4-cup serving). The label says that the soup is "chock full of tender noodles and savory white meat." Yet Lipton adds more salt than dehydrated chicken. Even after the chicken is rehydrated, we figure you get less than a teaspoon.

Caramel Corn

Cracker Jack Fat Free Caramel Coated Popcorn is fat-free all right. Adding nearly four teaspoons of sugar to a cup of popcorn (or anything else) won't make it fattier. But it does boost the calories... and dental bills.

A cup of these Cracker Jacks has 110 calories. A cup of ordinary popcorn has only 30. Don't get us wrong: Caramel isn't as damaging as fatty movie theater popcorn. But you can't eat it 'til the cows come home and expect your thighs to stay "fat-free."

Fake Fruit

"Made with Real Fruit...Low Fat...Excellent Source of Vitamin C," says the label on Betty Crocker Cherry Fruit Roll-Ups. What more could a snacker want?

A piece of real fruit, not a snack made with who-knows-how-much fruit (Betty won't say) and some added vitamin C. Fruit provides not just vitamin C, but other key nutrients (like potassium, folic acid, and fiber) as well as phytochemicals, which may cut the risk of cancer.

Fruit Roll-Ups have some "pears from concentrate." But they also have a lot of sugar and starch. (There may be cherries on the box, but there are none inside.) Fruit snacks like Roll-Ups sound like sweetened fruit. They're really just one small step above candy.

Dressing Down

Regular mayonnaise and salad dressings pack an awful lot of calories into a little-bitty space: 40 to 100 in each tablespoon. And although the fat is mostly unsaturated, a two-tablespoon serving of some ranch dressings can contribute three grams of "bad" saturated fat to your 20-gram daily limit.

That's why low-fat or fat-free salad dressings or mayonnaise are so handy. With less or no fat, you're down around 5 to 25 calories a tablespoon. And who stops at one?

Granola Gains

Most cereals are low in fat. Not granola.

Thanks to coconut and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, Quaker 100% Natural Oats & Honey Granola has nine grams of fat, nearly six of them artery-clogging (four grams of saturated plus almost two grams of bans fat that isn't listed on the label). That's more than you'd get from a McDonald's hamburger.

Kellog's Low Fat Granola and Quaker Lowfat 100% Natural Granola cut the fat to just three grams per serving. They let you enjoy granola's crunchy whole grain wheat and oats without putting the crunch on your coronary arteries.

Slim Meats

You can't see it, but a typical hot dog squeezes 13 grams of fat into a bun. Two slices of bologna deposit 16 grams into your sandwich...and your arteries.

They don't have to.

Ball Park, Butterball, Healthy Choice, Hormel, and Oscar Mayer make low-fat or fat-free hot dogs, bologna, and other processed meats that (Ditto for Lightlife, Yves, and other veggie dogs.) True, most meat and poultry franks are still loaded with salt. But why not lose the fat when you give up so little in the taste department?

Better than Ground Beef

Even ground beef that's labeled "85 percent lean" isn't low in fat. Make a quarter-pounder out of it and you dispatch a quarter of a day's "bad" fat to the Interstate feeding your heart.

Butterball, Shady Brook Farms, and The Turkey Store 99% Fat Free ground turkey breast help keep those highways litter-free. Ditto for meatless Gardenburgers, Morningstar Farms Garden Vege Patties, and Boca Burgers.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:nutritional value of low-fat foods
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:May 1, 1997
Words:1031
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