Fat provides much of the flavor in the foods we love. Manufacturers have to replace the flavor loss in reduced-fat foods to make them palatable. Often, that something else is as bad as or worse than the fat it replaces. Do you crave plain baked potatoes, or is the potato really just a carrier for butter, sour cream, bacon and cheese? You’ll probably agree that the potato (with no fat) is just a carrier for “the good stuff”—mostly fats.
Replacing fats with other harmful ingredients provides a net gain of zero, zip, nada—at best! At worst, these flavor enhancers cause even more damage than the fat they’re replacing. When you read ingredient lists, “ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts,” as required by the FDA. Trace ingredients are not even listed.
Sugar, sometimes listed as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn sugar or cane juice, is often near the beginning of the ingredient list in reduced-fat foods. Well, that’s no bargain! Excess sugar consumption can lead to Type II diabetes.
Common, common table-variety salt (sodium chloride) is right up there with sugar. If the only goal is replacing lost flavor, what would motivate the manufacturers to add expensive salt such as Himalayan sea salt?
Carbohydrate-Based Fat Replacements
Leading carb-based replacements include such appetizing ingredients as maltodextrins, gums, starches, cellulose and polydextrose. Let’s look at just one of these—cellulose. According to Frostburg State University:
Cellulose is a long chain of linked sugar molecules that gives wood its remarkable strength. It is the main component of plant cell walls, and the basic building block for many textiles and for paper. Cotton is the purest natural form of cellulose. In the laboratory, ashless filter paper is a source of nearly pure cellulose.
There’s nothing more appetizing than a little dash of wood, right?
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This additive is a real beauty, often hiding behind other names such as textured vegetable protein (TVP), yeast extract and soy protein isolate, for a total of almost 40 obscure ingredient names. MSG can make mud taste appetizing. That’s why it’s a staple in “fast foods.” It can hide a multitude of sins, including inferior meats.
But it’s an excitotoxin, which causes a reaction in brain cells. Excitotoxins occur naturally in the brain, but adding them artificially gives new meaning to “too much of a good thing.” It’s the cheap ingredient that keeps on giving to the manufacturers, because it brings you back for more and causes you to eat even after you’ve satisfied your hunger. A paper from James Madison University states that it’s the ingredient “that excites your brain to death.”
Listed by TIME magazine as one of the 50 worst inventions, Olestra (brand name Olean) enhances flavor with no fat, no calories and no cholesterol. But it brings a lot more to the table in the form of side effects: cramps, bloating, gas and loose bowels. The FDA still allows it, even though it’s been banned in some countries. Run, don’t walk…
Reducing fat intake to zero is neither healthy, wise, nor an attainable goal. Stick to healthy fats like olive and grapeseed oil, and adjust your palate to appreciate the medley of flavors from whole foods such as fruits and vegetables accompanied by nature’s bounty of herbs and spices.