UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

If you thought ‘Fat-free’ meant healthy, you’ve got it all wrong


Campus Recreation hosted “Wellness Wednesday” Feb. 21, featuring Lecturer in Fitness and Human Performance Denise Cazes. She discussed why the focus should be on nutrition and not just exercise.

“People need to learn what’s in the foods they are buying and need to know if they are good or not,” Cazes said.

Labels that read “Fat-free,” “Sugar-free,” and “Sodium Free” may not always be the best option at the grocery store.

Cazes emphasized that a big part of improving eating habits and overall nutrition is learning how to read food labels and understanding what they are doing to one’s body.

“Run the calculations, every time you can,” Cazes said. “When a food says it’s ‘Fat-free’, what manufacturers are doing is replacing that ‘fat’ with sugars, preservatives, food additives, and other dangerous chemicals, so you really need to know what you are putting in your cart.”

Cazes argued that what’s in foods is causing serious problems. One example is the combination of ingredients that do not occur in natural food (notably the trilogy of sugar, processed fat and salt). She stated that manufactured foods often contain chemicals with known toxic properties.

“If you can’t pronounce the name of one of the chemicals in the label, simply don’t buy it,” Cazes said. “Food manufacturers are trying to be very sneaky, deceptive and make you think that their food is healthy because they want to buy the food.”

LIFEHACK #1: What to avoid

  • Sugar: Each food should have LESS than 5-6 g of sugar per serving. But read the ingredient list to ensure there are no hidden sugars.
  • Carrageenan (E407), a setting agent derived from seaweed that has been linked with ulcers and gastrointestinal cancer.
  • Dyes
  • Chemicals that are difficult to pronounce
  • Potassium Benzoate and Sodium Benzoate: the latter can convert into lethal carcinogenic poison when combined with ascorbic acid
  • MSG: It’s an excitotoxin that many researchers think contributes to the development of migraines, infections, endocrine disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Artificial Sweeteners: These are highly processed and can cause Type II diabetes.

There is a difference between regulations in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

“In Europe, the government doesn’t allow a lot of these things,” Cazes said. “Skittles manufacturers, for example, make one kind of Skittles for the United States and one kind and another one for European countries because they don’t allow artificial colors and chemicals in their products.”

Another concern for Cazes is the amount of sugar most American foods contain.

“The World Health Organization sets the limitations for sugar and in the rest of the world, 10 percent of your calories or less need to come from sugar,” Cazes said. “In the United States, it’s 25 percent. Do we really need more sugar?”

LIFEHACK #2: Common Claims:

  • “Reduced”: 25 percent less than original
  • “High Source”: 20 percent over the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA.)
    • RDA for fiber is 25 percent g, so “High Source” has about 5g of fiber
  • “Good Source”: 10-19 percent over the RDA.
  • “Enriched”: Adding nutrients back that were lost during processing (i.e. enriched milk)
  • “Fortified”: Adding more of a nutrient that was already present to enhance its health properties (i.e. fortified orange juice)

So, how can one tell if a food product is really healthy? Learn to read the label.

Cazes detailed some things to say no to:

  • Sugar: a food containing more than 8g of sugar per serving is not your best option
  • Fat: 25-30 percent of the calories of each serving of X product should come from fat.
    • For example, each serving of Pringles contains 150 calories, but 90 calories come from fat. That’s 60 percent, a big no.
    • On the other hand, each serving of Boar’s Head Turkey Breast contains 60 calories, and only 5 calories come from fat. That’s 8 percent, so go ahead.
  • Fiber: look for foods containing 3g of fiber per serving. Not 1g, not 2g but 3g.
  • Spot the hidden sugars: under the ingredient list, look out for common sweeteners such as corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids, malt syrup. These are another big no.
  • Preservatives, food additives and unknown chemicals: once again, you must avoid all of these.

Being honest, this doesn’t mean you have to throw away everything that’s in your pantry, or that you need to drastically change your eating habits. It’s all about being aware. Do your research, run the calculations, and start making small changes.

What you can’t forget: Eat less sugar, more fiber.

Try buying products that contain 5-6g of sugar per serving, and 3g of fiber per serving.