Food Labels that Fool You!

If it's 97% Fat Free, does that mean 3% of the calories come from fat? No, not even close! This product actually contains 27% fat!

So what's going on?

In order to make it easy to understand for the consumer, the Food and Drug Administration established standardized guidelines to be used in the nutrition labeling - pay attention - I said nutrition labeling, not the packaging - which all manufacturers are required to follow. Using these guidelines, this product contains a total of 27% fat based on calories.

So how then can the manufacturer claim that this product is "97% Fat Free?" Because that percentage is calculated using weight, not calories. And that's allowed by the FDA because the packaging is not part of the nutrition label. In other words, 3% of the weight of this product contains fat!

Here's how the manufacturer has computed the 97% fat free figures: The total weight of this package (see Nutrition Facts below) is 294 grams and the total weight of fat in the package is 8 grams, so 8 divided by 294 = 0.027 x 100 = 2.7% or 3% rounded off.

What's wrong with using weight to calculate percentage of fat? Fat is lighter than most other ingredients, so you'll always get a low numerical value.

If you want to know the percentage of calories you're getting from fat, you must use calories for your calculations, not weight. See for yourself! Here's how to figure the percentage of fat using calories, the correct way to calculate if you want to know how much fat you're consuming:

Using this same label, the total number of calories is 260. Calories from fat totals to 70, so 70 divided by 260 = 0.269 x 100 = 26.9% rounded off to 27% fat. This means that 27% of the calories in this product come from fat.

Confused? There's more!

When looking at this label, did you think the total fat content was12%? Once again, in their efforts to make it easy to understand for the consumer, the FDA created a system called % (Percent) Daily Value. And what does that mean?

Percent Daily Value is a measurement of how much fat you're getting from a food product if you consume 2000 calories and 65 grams of fat per day - and that would be easy to understand if all of us ate 2000 calories a day - no more and no less. This product contains 8 grams of fat which is 12% of 65 grams. But note, if you consume less than or more than 65 grams of fat per day, the % Daily Value listed on the label will not apply to you.

It's a good idea to test your calculations against the manufacturers' claims. When you start doing your own computations, you'll be surprised to find food labels that fool you and a lot of advertising that doesn't add up!

-Here's another way to figure the percentage of fat if the product doesn't offer the number of fat calories. We'll use the Pasta & Spinach Romano label (right) as an example.

-Multipy the number of grams of fat in one serving by 9 because fat contains 9 calories per gram. Divide this number by the total number of calories in one serving. Then multiply by 100 to get the percent of fat. For example, if one serving contains 260 calories and 8 grams of fat, then 8 x 9 = 72 divided by 260 x 100 = 27% fat per serving.

For more information and to request a copy of the Code of Federal Regulations governing nutrition labeling of fat in food products, call the Food and Drug Administration at 1-888-723-3366 and ask for Regulation 21CFR101.62, pages 102-111, or visit their website at

Where do you get your nutrition information? Most states now have licensure laws for Dietitians and Nutritionists. Be sure your nutrition advisor is "Licensed" by the State as a Licensed Dietitian (LD) or Licensed Nutritionist (LN), or in states that don't have licensure laws, a Registered Dietitian.




CarboH, Inc.
Barbara Herondorf, L.D.