(Please feel free to check out updates to this article and others related to fitness and nutrition at Strength Systems )
Given the favorable response to my previous article on health food research, I will make this a periodic addition to my regular posts. The topic of this article is the growing popularity of spray butter substitutes. There are several on the market, Parkay and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter being the two most popular.
For some time I have been looking for the nutrition information related to the calorie content of Parkay Fat Free Butter Spray to change. When this product first hit the market I, as I am sure many other people, thought it should be in consideration for product of the year. A product that tastes like butter, no cholesterol, zero trans fat, in fact zero fat period (or at least that is what the bottle claimed). Then I looked at the ingredients:
Water, Soybean Oil, Buttermilk, Salt, Soy Lecithin And Polyglycerol Esters Of Fatty Acids (Emulsifiers), Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate And Sodium Benzoate (To Preserve Freshness), Lactic Acid (Acidulant), Artificial Flavor, Colored With Beta Carotene (Source Of Vitamin A), Vitamin A Palmitate.
Now, let’s ignore the long list of preservatives and emulsifiers and focus on the second and third, soybean oil and buttermilk. Now it doesn’t take a food scientist to realize there is fat in both of those ingredients. After a quick search I have run across several websites that tout these products as a great substitute to real butter and definitely margarine, which is typically made up of hydrogenated oils (more on the negative health benefit of those here). Most of these sites use the nutrition label that is directly from the bottle.
With all the confusion around and attempt to educate the public on food labels and serving sizes over the past few years, it seems a label with nothing but zeros on it would be simple to understand. Just use a couple sprays, but with information like 0 calories it would be like telling someone to eat just one potato chip. I decided to contact ConAgra (owner of the Parkay brand) regarding the contents and here is what they confirmed.
March 24, 2005 Thank you for contacting us. The Parkay Spray was developed to give youthe buttery taste ofreal butter without the fat and calories. There are 8 calories in 1 spray and 40 calories in5 sprays. Fat content is .085grams in 1 spray, .4 grams in 5 sprays. We appreciate yourinterest in Parkay. ConAgra Foods Consumer Affairs 050469237A
That means that in the entire bottle there are 832 total calories from 93 grams of fat. Now you may be wondering why it is they can list it as 0 calories. Phil Kaplan, who runs PhilKaplan.com, has the answer.
The FDA labeling law says that if there’s less than 1/2 gram of fat in a serving, a food can be labeled “Fat-Free.” The catch is, nobody regulates what the food companies refer to as a serving size.
I guess the ideal situation for the food and beverage industry would be to set the serving size on every product so small it could be considered ‘fat-free.’ Fortunately this tactic has been receiving increased scrutiny over the past couple of years most often with soft drinks and snack foods.
I do agree that this is a good product, in fact I have two bottles in my refrigerator. The problem with this labeling occurs when a person does not realize there are ‘hidden’ calories and decides to use it in a manner inconsistent with a ‘few sprays,’ such as with baking. What is thought of as a 0 calorie replacement for butter in your dishes is simply substituting one fat for the other.
I hope you have found this article educational and should you choose to try or continue using one of these products, you can do so a little smarter. For a decent list of products you can choose from in this category I recommend the following page: Better than Butter.