Fat Free: The Real Definition

Canada’s Guidelines for Healthy Living continues to educate people on choosing nutritious foods The following information should help you when those FAT-FREE labels jump out at you in the aisles of your local grocery store.

What does Fat-Free Mean?

The definition is “less than 0.5 grams of fat per reference amount and per labeled serving of a food.” Less than 0.5 grams of fat per reference amount and per serving of food is considered a nutritionally insignificant amount of fat.

A reference amount is a standardized amount of a food representing the amount of food consumed on average at a single eating occasion. Using this reference amount eliminates the problem of different serving sizes being used to make nutrient content claims.

Why was the Definition of “Fat-Free” Changed in 1997?

The previous definition was considered restrictive because few foods qualified for that nutrient content claim. For example, even vegetables and fruit which are generally considered fat-free contain some fat: spinach has 0.3 grams fat and apples have 0.6 grams fat per 100 grams. The change will also allow manufacturers to produce tastier foods that meet the “fat-free” criteria. In addition, the new definition of “fat-free” is the same as that of the U.S., which should eliminate confusion among consumers who have been exposed to American nutrient content claims. For example, under the previous definition, the same food could be labeled “fat-free” in the US but not in Canada.

What Information about Fat Content Appears on the Label of a Food Caryying the Claim “Fat-Free”?

Although Canada’s nutrition labeling guidelines are voluntary, an increasingly large number of foods do have nutrition labels. The claim “fat-free” identifies foods containing less than 0.5 grams of fat per reference amount and per serving. Such foods are required to declare the specific amount of fat content down to 0.1 grams per serving.

Does “Fat-Free” Mean Calorie-Free?

No, it does not. A food labeled “fat-free” will generally contain fewer calories than the equivalent higher fat food. However, it will contain calories from carbohydrates and/or from protein. “Fat-free” foods should not be used as additional foods in the diet if calorie control is the objective, although they can be used to replace higher fat choices.

What do Other Fat-Related Claims Mean?

All nutrient content claims are defined either through regulations or guidelines. All claims respecting fat must be accompanied by a declaration of fat content. “Fat reduced” products must be reduced by at least 25% and the amount of reduction must be indicated on the label.

“Low fat” products must contain no more than 3 grams of fat per serving and no more than 15% fat on a dry basis. “Light” or “lite” product claims must indicate what the claim relates to, for example, reduced fat, low fat or to the taste or texture of a food.

These claims do not necessarily mean a product is lower in fat or calories. “Low in saturated fat” or “cholesterol free” products are not necessarily low in total fat. For example, vegetable oils labeled “cholesterol free”contain no cholesterol and must be low in saturated fat but are high in total fat.

How does Fat Content Information Contribute to Healthy Eating?

Healthy eating means getting no more than 30% of your daily calories from fat. For someone consuming 1800 calories per day, this would mean 540 calories or 60 grams of fat. A person consuming 3000 calories in a day should eat no more than 100 grams of fat. It is important to know that 1 gram of fat = 9 calories.

Should we Try to Eliminate as Much Fat From Our Diets as Possible?

Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends choosing lower-fat foods more often. However, foods that contain fat can also be part of a healthy eating pattern which contains a variety of foods from the four food groups.

By Jodie Mirosovsky, Home Economist

Source: Health Canada Fact Sheets