Pictured below, you will find two different versions of the same generic brand of cream cheese. One version is the “regular” kind, with the other serving as the “low-fat” version. Take a look at the photo and see if you can find anything that’s noticeably different.
Now, before I get into explaining what those differences are…. I suppose I should tell you which is which, eh? Welp:
That’s right. The top box is the “fat free” version, the bottom is the original. Never mind the processed goodness of Oreo pudding and Lenders bagels… what, with all its high fructose corn syrupy sweetness and “melt in your mouth” refined flours that, well, melt away at the touch of saliva. Never mind all that. Focus on the cream cheese, here.
I’m going to paste the nutrition labels of those two one more time, so that it’ll serve as an easier reference point.
There are quite a few things worth noting, here. For starters, the fat-free version of the cream cheese is true to its label – it has reduced the fat content of the cheese down to nothing. There’s also 70 calories less in the fat-free version than there is in there regular. Well, I’ll be. [insert applause]
But look at the number of ingredients in the fat free cheese in comparison to the regular version. Better yet, how many of those ingredients are actual real food items and not the result of a chemistry experiment?
Cheese is made from milk, and let’s face it. Milk is supposed to be fattening. Let me repeat that. Milk is supposed to be fattening. The reason mammals produce milk (cows, goats and YES, humans) is to nourish their young and help them grow. It fattens them up. So needless to say, a cheese made from the milk of a mammal is going to have some fat in it. In order to create a cheese with the same consistency as regular cheese but remove the fat? A manufacturer has to add all those chemicals to it. Just to prevent the cheese from doing what it, technically, is supposed to do.
Look at how much sugar is in the regular version in comparison to the fat-free version. The natural “mmmm” that comes from the fat in cream cheese is now gone, so the manufacturer has to add it back by adding excess sugar. Interesting.
Check out how much sodium is in each version. Again, adding a little more salt to help the cheese get back that “mmmm” feeling it once had. I mean, I’m just sayin’. It’s something to think about.
I’d also like to compare the contents of the ingredients lists. In the regular version of cream cheese, it’s straight-forward: “Milk, cream, cheese culture, salt, carob bean, guar gum (a thickener, similar to cornstarch).” In the fat-free version? There’s… tragedy. And shame. And two “kinds” of salt (salt and sodium tripolyphosphate, a preservative derived from triphosphoric acid.) And twelve more ingredients than you can find in the regular version.
It takes a manufacturer 18 ingredients (many of whom not found in nature) to present you a cream cheese with the same taste and as close to that “mmm” feeling as possible. Sure, it has twice as much sugar and almost 60% more salt, but hey – at least you get fewer calories.
Why does this matter? It matters because in the quest for hunting for “fat free,” we’ve neglected the primary purpose of food – nourishing our bodies. If you change the structure of the milk used – from regular to skim – then you change the nutrients available. You change what the dish can do for you. You change its ability to nourish you and fill you up. You’re sticking more chemicals in your body.
As strange as it sounds, in the interest of clean eating? I’d actually stick with the regular version, leaving the fat free version of the cream cheese behind. The fat-free version has to be thoroughly processed to make a fat-filled item fat-free. I do find myself balking at the fact that this means I’m taking on 70 more calories per serving by eating the regular… but that’s all the more reason for me to exercise some major portion control, and protect my plate from foolishness.
If you spend some time in the grocery this weekend, compare your “regular” versions with your “fat-free” versions – we may even have those fat-free items in the fridge right now! – and see how unclean they are. Might be a little surprised!