Home Did You Know Supermarket Swindle: Fat, Low Fat, Fat Free?

Supermarket Swindle: Fat, Low Fat, Fat Free?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

What better way to round off a week of talking about people who don’t know squat about fat…. than to prove that people really don’t know squat about fat? 🙂

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!

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Curvy Jones June 18, 2010 - 9:55 AM

Shame, isn’t it?

I eat regular full fat, and modify my serving, because I watch sugar the most. FF products have too much sugar!

TODAY also did a show on labels of popular diet foods like Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers meals. Found some have as much as 20% more fat than it says on the label. FDA says it’s “okay” because the values are an average across a selection of meals tested. SO, some have more, some have less but “on average” you can expect X grams of fat

…. except when X grams of fat is an understatement!

Erika June 18, 2010 - 10:42 AM

LOL I saw that on another news outlet- there’s more to it than that (you’re like two days ahead on this) but all in all, it’s sad.

“It’s an average, but we’re not going to tell you that its an average because then, you might not buy our foods.” It’s deception, and it’s legalized to protect the business, instead of demonized to protect the consumer. Amazing.

gina darlin June 12, 2012 - 12:05 AM

I’ve noticed that as well. I buy the full fat version. When bying reduced and low, I found myself eating more to get the same satisfaction.

cjbrownsc June 18, 2010 - 11:09 AM

Thanks so much for opening my eyes to the pure garbage that I have been putting into my body, my temple!
Sure, I’m one of those people that buy fat-free, lite, and sugar-free, all for the sake of trying to lose the weight I want, but I never really paid attention to the ingredients until I found your blog (thank God for that!!).
Since I’ve begun “cleaning up my act” I don’t have half the aches and pains that I used to have, and even though I don’t have any kind of analysis to back this up, my theory is the junk that I was eating (artificial sweeteners and chemical crap) was probably causing it.
I’m not completely clean yet, but me and my family are definitely on our way.

Erika June 18, 2010 - 12:06 PM

“Clean” is an evolutionary process – I love hearing that you are on your way! You may never be “completely there yet” because the more you learn, the more opportunities you’re exposed to to get closer to where you’re going… so as long as you use each day to get a step closer, you’re all good!

Besides, going cold turkey is the absolute WORST. LOL!

China Blue June 18, 2010 - 11:16 AM

Great post, Erika – very eye-opening.

I remember reading an article on ice cream to the same effect, and it basically said: ‘If you can’t pronounce half the ingredients or can’t get them direct from a plant or animal, it’s highly processed and therefore of poorer quality’. Or to summarise even further: ‘Haagen-Dazs good, Skinny Cow bad’. I’m happy to roll with that 🙂

To this day I avoid specially-made low-fat products (aside from yoghurt, my one true weakness) unless they’re naturally that way. I’d take the satisfying high-quality, full-fat goodness in a small portion any day over vats of low-fat, artificial, fake-tasting crap – that’s not even going to nourish my body when I’m done!

Erika June 18, 2010 - 12:10 PM

Yep – I just saw a Haagen Daas ad in my Saveur mag with a picture of an egg, a block of cocoa, some cream and sugar and it said “all we need is cold. Just five all natural ingredients.”

While I take up concern with the term “natural,” I appreciated and admired what they were getting it, lol.

Great points! Thank you for commenting! 🙂

JoAnna June 18, 2010 - 12:01 PM

Nice post Erika!

I don’t believe in “Frankenfoods”: no fat-free cheese, no sugar-free sweetners, no fiber-enriched nonsense, etc. Besides, my body lets me know if I’ve eaten that mess by eliminating it as quickly as possible!

I remember making butter in class as a child. We took turns with a churn and cream and made butter. Then we added a little salt and spread it on saltine crackers. We also made applesauce that same day by peeling apples, cooking them down, and adding a little lemon juice and cinnamon. I also remember going home to my Nanna and telling her that the white butter we made in class tasted better than the yellow oleo she had in the refrigerator!

Good food is natural food. I believe in enjoying the “fullness” of it, but making that “fullness” worth the workout. I’d rather sweat out a slice of homemade Mississippi Mud cake made with %75 dark chocolate, brewed coffee, and sour cream and topped with fresh strawberries than a chocolate smoothie from Wendy’s!

Erika June 18, 2010 - 12:13 PM


You have made so many amazing points in here – the ability to truly enjoy food, seeing the value in your food when you make it yourself, comparing your own home made stuff to the stuff you buy – that I have to save this comment for myself! LOL!

Lee May 5, 2011 - 12:23 PM

Also, can we get the recipe for that amazing-sounding homemade cake?!

Crooky June 18, 2010 - 12:09 PM

Great post!
Since I’ve been on my new journey, I’ve found myself reading labels a lot more (trying to pay attention to the fat, sodium and sugar contents). It is AMAZING to see the differences between “fat” and “fat-free” foods. I swear I must have spent about 20 minutes alone trying to make up my mind on what yogurt I wanted to get.

I will definitely pass this post on to my FitNPhyne sisters. *lol*

Erika June 18, 2010 - 12:16 PM

LOL I still do that! I just get used to spending forever in the grocery store, lol. For a long time, it was whipped cream. I finally said “screw it” and opted to make my own, only to say “Aw naw, screw this.” and gave up whipped cream. LOL

Thank you for stopping by!

Rita June 19, 2010 - 1:54 AM

You’re so right! I tried comparing ingredient lists today when I went to pick up some balsamic vinegerette for a recipe I wanted to try. I started with the organic version (assuming it would be better for me but not wanting to spend $5 for 1 bottle) and it registered at 70 calories then I compared the Kraft & Kraft fat free versions and both had 40-50 calories along with a boat load of extra ingredients including MSG at 2 for $5. (We’re not even going to discuss what was in the $1.50 store brand version.)At this point I was ready to give up and bite the bullett of the extra price but resolved to venture further down the aisle only to discover the lessr known “offbrand”. It contained essentially the exact same ingredients as the organic version with only 30 calories and only cost $2…guess which one I picked? lol.

Erika June 19, 2010 - 7:57 AM

I LOVE IT! We always get so caught up thinking we’ve only got two options – the most expensive and the cheapest – when really, if we do a little digging, we find exactly what we need! Total example of that!

BAnjeeB June 19, 2010 - 9:49 AM

Another great and iformative post! This is definitely a journey and I’m glad to have you as one of the guides. Thank you!

Ruby Leonne September 30, 2010 - 11:26 AM

Thank you for this post. It makes you think. I’ve been trying weight loss for sometime now and I’m purchase LARGE amounts of fat-free, reduced fat, sugar free and etc items. Thank you because when I go to the grocery store this weekend. I’m checking those labels. We believe these labels and we are doing more harm to our bodies. With all the reduced fat/fat free etc labels out there, our waist lines are still growing at an alarming rate. No one sees the relation?!?!? Thanks. I truly had no idea!

Tiana January 26, 2011 - 6:49 PM

Oh wow…i had no idea…I’m on the Alli program which concentrates on fat free eating so anything that I normally eat that comes in a fat free version, I’ll grab…
I pay attention to labels but one thing i never really considered was comparing the labels between regular and fat free – I gotta go to the store this weekend, so I’ll be on the lookout!! Thanks for this!! 🙂

TheRealDeal April 27, 2011 - 5:30 PM

Yup. This is why I hate most low fat or fat free things. It’s all chemically altered junk. That said, the ONLY low fat food I’ll buy is Philadelphia’s low fat cream cheese (Neufchatel). It”s better than their full fat one! The only ingredient difference is that the full fat one contains whey protein concentrate and the low fat doesn’t. The low fat one tastes cheesier to me which I like, I feel like the full fat one has less cheese taste. And both lack the crazy ingredients found in most low fat/fat free cream cheeses.

dvine May 5, 2011 - 12:26 PM

you know i’m going to be seeing a nutritionist soon but what you just wrote is what i’ve heard all along.. be careful about the FAT FREE products..

milaxx May 5, 2011 - 6:08 PM

Since I’ve been trying to eat cleaner, I simply stopped buying low fat, sugar free etc… I’m just trying to eat with some common sense.

Kristie May 17, 2011 - 11:03 AM

This is a very interesting post! Thank you for providing all of the wonderful information daily. I rarely purchase anything low-fat–and I NEVER bother with the no-fat and lite/artificial sweeteners. They are simply awful!! I do purchase reduced fat cheese and 2% milk. I will certainly start comparing ingredients when I do my grocery shopping from now on!

Keelah May 24, 2011 - 4:54 PM

Wow! The first thing I noticed was the number of ingriedients! I noticed this first with butter and margarine. Everyone keeps telling me that I should use margarine, it even tastes JUST like butter…! lol I’ll stick with my butter, in moderation. Thankyouverymuch!

Tiga May 24, 2011 - 6:24 PM

It’s funny I always wondered about those fat free stuff. Here in France they talk about it all the time. It is kinda weird because famous nutritionists on TV say it is better to avoid fat free food because of all the additives they put to get the same taste as the normal stuff and also because since it is fat free people tend to indulge more and therefore eat more of it getting the same result as eating the normal stuff.

Marissa May 27, 2011 - 9:01 PM

Okay, totally want to point out that making your own cream cheese and sour cream is an awesome alternative to buying it. It’s also a little cheaper. Making it takes almost no time and it gives you more control over what you put in your mouth. Just wanted to throw that out there!

Erika Nicole Kendall May 27, 2011 - 9:02 PM

It’s only fair that you throw out a link!

Jennifer June 1, 2011 - 9:48 AM

I’m often looking at despair with people who are struggling with their weight while the grocery bag is filled with diet this and no-fat that. We need fat to lose fat, to make us full and satisfied with a smaller portion. It’s wonderful that you’re educating people on this… one-by-one we need to get everyone off the chemical wagon! Lovely blog 😀

splitsun June 2, 2011 - 12:19 AM

Excellent point. I will be on the look out during my next shopping trip for all those additional ingredients.

I have formally given up on fat free cheeses. They do not satisfy me and are usually tasteless. I’ll take some fat in my cheese and milk please.

Kris July 4, 2011 - 11:53 AM

I’ve definitely become more aware of labeling and salt content since I’ve adapted a low sodium diet. It’s incredibly difficult to find foods with its original ingredients. However, I will never give up skim milk. Whole milk or anything close to it makes me feel sick lol.

Suburban Soulgirl July 10, 2011 - 5:46 PM

The amount of sugar and chemicals in “fat free” foods is the reason why I don’t mess with the stuff. Not to mention, they taste nasty as hell. One time I bought a low fat raspberry vinaigrette for my salad and it was so sweet and gross-tasting that I ended up throwing out the entire salad.

I’d rather have the full fat stuff in moderation.

Tiera October 14, 2011 - 7:21 PM

I just love when products say 0 grams of trans fat, yet the ingredients will list something like “Partially hydrogenated soybean oil.” Um…Hello!! Any oil that is “partially hydrogenated” is, indeed, a form of trans fat 🙂

Kelekona October 24, 2011 - 3:03 AM

The ingredient difference between normal V8 and low-sodium V8 looked a lot scarier in the store. (Have to go through Campbell’s site to even find that info, not the V8 hype page. http://www.campbellfoodservice.com/Search.aspx?stype=PCS&val=27031&display=V8+100%25+Vegetable+Juice,%20Multiserve+%28PET%29)

I know, V8 ain’t natural, but it’s healthy for a convenience ingredient.

I’m just with the mostly full-fat crowd because I heard about the tendency for someone to eat more (because fat-free is guilt-free) when they are still getting the calories.

Diannad May 24, 2012 - 10:46 AM

Thanks for this info. I’m doing the “Digest Diet” by the Reader’s Digest people and on the list of things to buy is a tub of fat-free cream cheese.
This just seemed so wrong since they also advocate cutting out toxins and chemicals and buying organic foods.
So why the fake cheese with all the chemicals?
I found your post while googling fat-free cream cheese.

I’ll stick to the natural cheese and just eat less.

Where does the body store toxins and chemicals it can’t release? In the fat cells. That’s where!!! So that fat-free cheese is just feeding the areas we want to lessen.

I appreciate your dairy aisle recon. 🙂

Allegra July 13, 2012 - 11:13 AM

Hey Erika,

Great post. I love that you posted the two labels side by side. Thank you for this website, more and more people are waking up to the fact that what they are eating isn’t even real food! Fat free usually means more chemicals and more sugar. Sugar is toxic- actually much worse than fat. And sugar turns into fat. I’m into real food. I could care less about the amount of fat in something, because if you are eating real food whatever fat you are eating will be natural (healthy) fat. Avoid sugar, chemicals, and GMOs. Eat real food!

Jen August 1, 2012 - 10:46 PM

What a wonderful article! Erika, thank you so much! I always get the full fat versions of products just because they taste better, but I’ll definitely be comparing labels next time I go shopping!

Stephanie August 2, 2012 - 2:29 PM

I am so glad I found this article. I’ve been on a journey to real food for a few months so I’ve been buying full fat milk, yogurt, etc. Then a few weeks ago I kind of started researching “eating clean” and it was totally against full fat anything and I have just been a confused mess. Thanks for clearing that up! Low fat does not seem clean/real at all so I am not sure why it is on most of the grocery lists of what to buy but I am sure glad I found this article 🙂 Thanks again!

Rachel August 20, 2012 - 9:33 PM

Wow!! Very eye opening! I always go straight to the nutrition facts thinking I am making the “smart” decision…oops. I think it is totally worth the extra calories to have some REAL food.

Nomfundo August 21, 2012 - 10:34 AM

So earlier today I was offered a ‘dairy fruit’ drink by a friend. This left me feeling unbelievably depressed, I was literally on the verge of tears. I took the drink and thanked her, when she left I read the ingredients list and saw asparatame which you warn us all against and thought; “Awesome, I wont drink it.” But my depression did not lift! So there I was, knowing that this drink is bad for me but I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember why its bad!
Thanks to my good friend google and your blog for reminding me why I should have water instead. For now, i”ll just have an apple and be grateful that I cant remember the last time i had a headache.


DocLyne Ess September 2, 2012 - 12:20 PM

OMGosh! Thanks!!! for this eye-opening piece. I had to laugh when I realized that I am wearing my first natural in FOREVER while deciding from this day forward to forgo the Frankenstein Food (love the term) as much as possible and practice better portion control.

I easily lost 20 pounds when I decided to cut sugar (sweets, especially homemade, are my crack) out of my diet, eat breakfast everyday, eat more fruits, vegetables, and salads, keep my soup pot full, and quit hanging out in restaurants.

I did get in exercise. I was working my tapes and DVDs at home. I would go to the gym and work on the machines and walk at the park. Then my exercise came in the form of being in a musical for community theatre (FUN!FUN!FUN!).

The ‘downfall’ came during the summer. My husband and I kept the road hot and while I tried to be conscious of what I was eating, well, you know how that goes. LOL Who would turn down homemade-put-both-feet-in-it-fresh-Georgia-peaches-peach-cobbler, especially when you knew LAST year it was coming? LOL. OK, YOU might LOL

Anyway, I gained some of that weight back, but I’m OK. I had a wonderfully wonderful summer and gained some insight. I’m back in the saddle and doing me. I have a very important wedding coming up in April and hope the dress I plan to wear (1) fits or (2) is too big LOL.

I’m on the way to a cookout and will be mindful of what I eat, BUT I will not be obsessive!

Erika, thanks for your work, your information, and your words of encouragement. I enjoy reading what you and the other ladies have to say.

God Bless

Brandi September 2, 2012 - 1:30 PM

Hi! I’ve become addicted to your blog, thanks for all of this great info. Question for ya! What about skim milk? Does the same thing apply?


Erika Nicole Kendall September 2, 2012 - 9:10 PM

Because the process that results in skim milk is very different from regular milk (the fat is ‘skimmed’ off the top, hence the name), I’d have to say no.

Brandi September 3, 2012 - 11:19 AM

Thanks! I was actually coming back to say never mind I found it one of your other blogs. LOL (Like I said, I’m a bit obsessed as you’re a new find for me.)

Thanks again for all of the great info. I’d love to move towards clean eating for me and my family and you break it down and make it not so damn overwhelming. 🙂

Rada May 18, 2013 - 10:05 PM

Well said. People are always looking for some “free” in their foods.. anything that’s fat free will have way too much sodium and added sugar.

I agree natural foods should remain as that, maybe then we would have less cases of cancer, crazy allergies, etc.

Comments are closed.