Monday, June 18, 2007

The Low Fat Myth

"water, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, dextrose, non-fat milk solids, sodium caseinate, sugar, natural and artificial flavors, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate and stdium stearoyl lactylate, xanthan gum and guar gum, disodium phosphate and sodium polyphosphate, beta carotene."

So what is it? A military chemical warfare agent? An alien spaceship duty roster? No, actually it's this substance that is known in the vernacular as "Coolwhip," a.k.a. the low fat replacement for whipped cream. The particular brand above is from the Publix brand of "whipped topping."

This past weekend, Harmony and I attended a church potluck. One lady had brought some pink cottage cheese confection, and one of our friends had made chocolate ice cream. I had made up my mind to try some of the ice cream, for the encouragement of all saints present. So as she was scooping some for me, I asked her what went into it. Earlier she had commented that she went the low-fat route. I shouldn't have even asked her, because one of the ingredients was Coolwhip, otherwise known as sweet hydrogenation.

The pink cottage cheese confection was mentioned because it was also made using the low fat mantra. In other words, it also had Coolwhip in it. When you replace whipped cream with Coolwhip, you are effectively just switching versions of fat. Whipped cream has real fat, and Coolwhip has man-made fake fats, otherwise known as trans fats. Sure the label might say 0g of trans fat, but one look at the label will indicate that hydrogenated fats are high on the ingredient list. For more on that, read my Well Tempered Rant on Trans Fats.

I wish the FDA or the USDA or whoever would adopt a smaller increment of measure for labeling trans fat content. Currently, a serving of foodstuff could contain 0.4g of trans fat and the manufacturer is allowed to label it "0g Trans Fat!" Come on now.

There are a myriad of pages on the Internet talking about how the low fat diet is a sham, a myth. When you discuss "fats," you must make distinctions between saturated and unsaturated fats (and even further, mono/polyunsaturated). Unsaturated fats are good for you. Eat more. Saturated fats should be consumed with more care. Too much can be bad, but look carefully; they do have a recommended daily value. Furthermore, certain vitamins and nutrients are fat-soluble. Vitamins such as A, D, E, and K must be consumed with some form of fat in order to stick in your body. Otherwise they wash right out. Think of healthy digestion as a rollercoaster ride, fat-soluble vitamins as the riders, and fats as the bars and harnesses that keep the riders locked and secured. With no protective harnesses, the fats fall right out and go splat on the ground (don't read too far into that part of the analogy), assuming it was a decidedly not-lame rollercoaster. (No it's not a perfect analogy)

Yeah I know...there are studies saying both things. One study says low fat diets help with certain demographics. Another study says low fat diets don't help at all. So what are we to do?

Personally, we try to stay away from space alien products where possible. Here's a test you can do: when reading the ingredients, put "Captain ______" or "Sublieutenant ______" in front of the ingredient name. If a lot of them sound like they would be at home in the Star Trek universe, then you might want to steer clear. Captain Xanthan, Commander Caseinate, and Sublieutenant Sorbitan will probably not do much to improve your health. Also, moderation is probably a good choice.

But alas. It was said in the past that we strictly limit our own diet so that we could eat without abandon when going over to grandmothers' houses. This weekend we added an amendment saying that we also eat like we do so we can go to church potlucks. We ate the ice cream and the pink cottage cheese confection; they tasted good.

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6 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Birdie

    "...put "Captain ______" or "Sublieutenant ______" in front of the ingredient name. If a lot of them sound like they would be at home in the Star Trek universe, then you might want to steer clear."

    Hilarious! I'm actually allergic to most processed sugars and especially to corn syrup which is actually quite nice for me since I am also diabetic! It does give me a really good excuse to avoid a bunch of those supposedly low-fat concoctions, though! ;)

  • Harmony

    "The particular brand above is from the Publix brand of "whipped topping.""

    Actually, it was from Great Value brand light whipped topping. But I imagine they're all pretty much the same. :)

    The ingredients in fat-free cool whip are nearly the same: water, corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, sodium caseinate, natural and artificial flavor, modified food starch, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, polysorbate 65, sorbitan monostearate, sodium hydroxide, beta carotene

    So what's the difference between the fat-free version and the light version??? One has 1g saturated fat, the other has none. Go figure.

  • Myfriendconnie

    My kids love that pink cottage cheese stuff. With pineapple chunks! Mmmmmmmmm!

  • Iris

    Hey, was that from the container you use to store your meds/vitamins? =) Growing up, we never had whipped topping much. I remember having Cool Whip (or something similar) on our strawberries once in a while, but that was it.

  • JunkMale

    Yes, it was from the container we use to store our vitamins. I will also add that we got this container from Harmony's parents' house, and did NOT buy it ourselves.

    It's crazy how much bad stuff we used to eat. Donuts, buttery spread for corn-on-the-cob, fast food...among other things.

  • CappuccinoLife

    dare I confess Cool Whip is on my shopping list this week. Hey, it's $0.79/ea.

    Though, I'm close to crossing it off after reading this post.