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In this week's blog post, I want to discuss a somewhat obscure food labeling law that allows product manufacturers to label their products as “0-calories” even when they DO contain calories. I will cite a couple of examples, but this is not to bash these products. Certainly, products with calories are not “bad”. Consuming them will not necessarily lead to weight gain either. In fact, each of the products I will mention IS approved in all of the weight loss programs we prescribe to our clients in our Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky weight loss offices. This post is simply about information. If you are trying to get healthy, lose weight, etc. you need to know exactly what you are putting into your body, and food labels should not be misleading.

Understanding the Law

So, the rule basically is that if a product contains less than 5 calories per typical serving size then it can legally be labeled as a “0-calorie” or “calorie-free product”. The key term here is “typical serving size”. As I will show you in the following examples, the serving size can be manipulated by food manufacturers so that they meet this 0-calorie requirement.

Example 1: Tic Tacs

The first example I will share is the breath mint Tic Tacs. They are clearly labeled as a “0-calorie” product. The first ingredient listed is sugar, however. Of course, sugar contains calories, so what’s the deal here? Again, the important thing to note is the serving size. Tic Tacs serving size is listed as 1 individual Tic Tac. 1 Tic Tac is .5g and .5g of sugar is about 2 calories. So every Tic Tac is 2 calories. This is clearly under the 5-calorie cutoff, so it is labeled as calorie-free. I don’t honestly know anyone who has actually ever eaten just one Tic Tac, however, so I find this “typical serving size” a bit hard to believe.

Example 2: Cooking Spray

Next, I will cite a 0-calorie cooking spray. There are a number of these containing canola oil, olive oil, etc. For this example, I will use one containing avocado oil. Although this example would be applicable to any other “0-calorie” spray as well. The particular avocado oil spray can was labeled as 0-calories per serving size but the serving size was listed as ¼ second of a spray. This would equal about .25g of avocado oil. In each spray, there are about 2 calories if somehow you can use only this amount. Again, I find this serving size hard to believe. I think that a 1-2 second spray to coat a pan is much more realistic.


In closing, I will again state that these products can be used as part of a weight loss program. They add variety and flavor. One of the worst things that can happen during a weight loss program is boredom or the feeling like you are continuously eating bland, blah foods. When this happens either we need to find out how to make things interesting or else the client is headed down the path towards inevitable failure. What is important is knowing that using these products does add calories. If you use them around or even a bit above the serving size, you will likely be fine. It is important to note that if you use them way over the serving size that you are not adding “0-calories” to your diet and these calories may add up to be significant.

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