Don’t Be Fooled by this ‘Fat-Free’ Claim if You’re Trying to Limit Fat in Food

It’s there, right next to the coffee in virtually every office and many kitchens: a fat-free coffee creamer like Nestlé’s Original Fat Free Coffee-mate. According to the label, it’s “cholesterol free,” “lactose free,” “gluten-free,” and has “0 g trans fat.” According to the Nutrition Facts on the back, it has only 10 calories and no fat, cholesterol, sodium, or sugar.

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What a deal!

With all those rosy promises, who could blame you for not checking the ingredients. If you did, you might wonder how a food that consists largely of corn syrup solids and oils (partially hydrogenated coconut or palm kernel or hydrogenated soybean) could have no sugar or fat.

In fact, Original Fat Free Coffee-mate has both. It’s just that the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label is only one (level) teaspoon. The sugar and fat round down to zero because a teaspoon of Coffee-mate has less than half a gram of each. That’s the Food and Drug Administration’s magic rule.

Of course, many people use far more than a level teaspoon of powdered creamer to whiten even a small cup of coffee. Most folks simply turn over the container and pour. In fact, the directions say “Pour or spoon Coffee-mate into prepared coffee, tea, or cocoa. Stir and enjoy!”

If you enjoy, say, two tablespoons (six teaspoons) of Original Fat Free Coffee-mate in your 12 oz. mug of coffee, you’re up to 50 calories and 1.6 grams of saturated fat (according to a 2008 memo from Nestlé). Two tablespoons of ordinary half and half have 40 calories and 2 grams of sat fat. Oops.

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