A moment to discuss “low fat” or “fat free” oil

pam-cookingspray-oliveoilYes, I want to spend a couple of minutes on our friend PAM purely olive oil. According to the label, this product’s first (and really only) ingredient is olive oil. But due to some sort of magical process by our friends at ConAgra Foods, this olive oil as been depleted of it’s fat. Isn’t that amazing!

pam top frontRight there on the label, just below the cap it says “FOR FAT-FREE COOKING”. If you still aren’t convinced, there’s this nifty label on the bottom of the front:

pam frontThis one tells us that it has no calories and no saturated fat as well as no sodium or sugars. But then again, we don’t really expect a lot of sodium or sugars from an oil and saturated fat, as you know (if you’ve been reading the blog) is basically animal fat or, more rarely, coconut oil.

So how did ConAgra pull off this little magic trick? I’m hoping that a couple of you already know the answer, but the real answer is that they didn’t. Magic is what it always has been; an illusion. Let’s look at the back label (sorry it’s a little blurry).

Pam labelAgain we see, no fat, no calories from fat and total fat = 0g. But! But this is “per serving”. And what is a serving of PAM purely olive oil? Well, as you can see, it’s a 0.25 second spray. A quarter of a second spray. Really? Have you ever seen anyone do a 0.25 second spray except where there’s that one little spot you missed when you doused the pan? Why would they list anything so ridiculous as a 0.25 second spray? The answer — and here’s the illusion (er, magic) — is that the FDA has an exemption that allows manufacturers to “round down” if the serving size is less than 0.5 g. And our amazing 0.25 second spray yields a serving of 0.25 g, thus ConAgra can, within the limits of the rules, round down all of their values to 0.

Let’s do a little quick math on that label. There are 473 “servings” of 0.25 grams, which means there is 118.25 grams of olive oil in a full can. A tablespoon (15 mL) of olive oil has 14 grams of fat and since there isn’t really anything but fat in olive oil, we can assume that there are about 8.4 tablespoons of olive oil in full can (118.25/14). Kind of makes the can seem expensive, doesn’t it? More to the point, 118.25 grams of fat is 1,064.25 calories, all from fat, for a full can.

Or, in more typical use, a 3 second spray is 3 (seconds) x 4 (spray/second) x 0.25 grams/spray) = 3 grams of fat or 27 calories (9 calories per gram for fat). Really, not bad for applying oil to a pan to prevent sticking and better, I’ll grant, that rubbing it up with butter or shortening, but it’s not zero and it never will be, no matter how hard they to fool us.

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