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Archive-name: food/fatfree/faq
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

Last updated: 5/27/95
Written by: Michelle Dick <>
Archived at:

This is a summary of information about the
newsgroup, very low fat diets, fat in foods, and nutritional labeling.
Send any comments, suggestions, or corrections to me, Michelle Dick,

Throughout this document you will see reference to various URLs.
These are pointers to internet resources available through ftp,
gopher, and web-browsers.  Please ask at your computer site for more
information on how to use these pointers (I'm sorry, but I can't help

Additions or substantive changes since the last update marked with *
in the contents listing.


5.1. Determining %CFF, percentage of calories from fat
5.2. % Fat-free on a food label
5.3. Converting from % fat by weight to %CFF
5.4 "Fat Free" claims on labels
5.5. Hidden fat
5.6. Finding the fat content of non-labeled foods
5.7. Fat content of oils
5.8. Fat content of nuts
5.9. Other high fat vegetable foods
5.10. TVP
5.11 Seitan
6.1. Optimal fat content
6.2. Keeping track of fat in the diet
6.3. Dietary need for fat
6.4. How much fat is needed
6.5. Two types of EFAs and their dietary sources.
6.6. RDA for EFAs
6.7. Best vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids
6.8. Omega-3 fatty acid content of fish and flax oils
7.1. Alternatives to sauteing or stir-frying with oil
7.2. Replacing fat in baked goods.
8.1 NLEA
8.2 Definition of terms used in food labeling
8.3 Rounding off nutrient values
8.4 Mono and diglycerides
9.1. VLF cookbooks
9.2. Background books on vlf diets
9.3. Related email mailing lists
9.4. Ftp recipe archives
9.5. Nutrition sites on the internet

   Early in 1993, I created the FATFREE Vegetarian Mailing List for
   discussion of very low fat vegetarianism.  The list's focus was and
   is vegetarian diets with approximately 5-15%CFF, not low fat diets
   of 15-30%CFF.  The list became very popular very quickly and many
   on the list wanted a usenet forum to discuss the topic as well as
   space to discuss non-vegetarian vlf foods.  Thus, a member of the
   FATFREE Mailing List created  The charter
   message indicated that the group was for discussion of diets
   similar to the FATFREE Mailing List without a restrition to
   vegetarian foods.  Because of the similarity of the topic and
   because the creator also wanted to stress that the group was for
   discussion of *very* low fat diets, the name "fat-free" was carried
   over (despite the fact that this a misnomer as there are no truly
   fat free nutritious foods or diets).


   The topic of this newsgroup is foods and cooking relevant to very
   lowfat (appx 15%CFF and under) diets.  The list is NOT restricted
   to vegetarian foods.

   Long-time readers and other knowledgable folks are very much aware
   that there are no truly fatless foods (excepting perhaps, water
   and sugar).  All foods contain some fat (see below for more info).
   Individual ingredients and recipes are not required to be below
   some magic level of fat content; the only expectation is that
   discussion should concentrate on those foods and dishes that fit
   easily into very low fat diets.

   CFF = Calories From Fat
   LF  = Low Fat
   VLF = Very Low Fat
   HFS = Health Food Store
   SAD = Standard American Diet
   SWD = Standard Western Diet
   TVP = Texturized Vegetable Protein
   HVP = Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein


   VLF diet: usually refers to a diet of 15%CFF or less and often
   10%CFF or less.

   Pritikin diet:  diet advocated by Nathan Pritikin starting in the
   70's. Less than 10%CFF, non-vegetarian, sugar-restricted.

   Ornish diet: diet promoted by Dean Ornish.  Ovo-lacto vegetarian,
   10%CFF or less.

   McDougall diet: diet promoted by John McDougall.  Vegan diet,
   usually containing 10%CFF or less.

   Vegetarian diet: diet that excludes all animal flesh, all chicken,
   all fish and seafood.  May or may not include eggs, milk products,
   and honey.  Not necessarily low in fat.

   Ovo-Lacto vegetarian diet: vegetarian diet including eggs (ovo) and
   dairy (lacto).  One sometimes also hears the terms ovo-vegetarian
   and lacto-vegetarian.

   Vegan diet: vegetarian diet that also excludes all egg and milk
   products and usually excludes honey.  Not necessarily low in fat.

   Entenman's diet: derisive term for a diet consisting of large
   amounts of "fat free" sugar foods such as Entenman's fatfree baked


5.1. Determining %CFF, percentage of calories from fat

   One useful measure of fat is the percentage of calories as fat.  To
   compute this percentage you need to know both the total calories
   and grams of fat:

                grams of fat X 9
     %CFF =     ----------------    X 100
                 total calories

   Example: A jar of Campbell's Healthy Request (tm) Cream of Mushroom
   Soup is labeled as having (per serving) 2g fat and 60 calories. 
   Thus, the % calories from fat is 

       2 * 9          18
       ----- * 100 = ---- * 100 = .30 * 100 = 30% calories from fat
        60           60

5.2. % Fat-free on a food label

   When % fat is listed on a food label, this is NOT %CFF as
   calculated above.  Food labels use fat percentage by weight not
   calories.  For instance, 1% milk is milk with 1% fat by weight.  It
   has 23%CFF.

   In the previous Campbell's Soup example, the soup is labeled as
   "99% Fat Free! (1% fat as served)".  But from our prior
   calculations, we showed it has 30%CFF.

5.3. Converting from % fat by weight to %CFF

   There is no simple way to convert from a weight percentage to a
   calorie percentage.  The reason is that the conversion will depend
   on how much water, fiber, and other non-caloric ingredients are in
   the item.  For instance, you could add a drop of oil to a glass of
   water.  By weight, it would have less than 1% fat, yet 100% of the
   calories would be from fat.  One can calculate a lower bound on the
   %CFF, however.  If a product has X% fat by weight, it must be at

   %CFF  =  ------           
            400 + 5X

   Keep in mind this is just a lower bound, the true %CFF will
   probably be much higher.  It is better to use the fat formula from
   section 4.1 if at all possible.

5.4 "Fat Free" claims on labels

   In the U.S, food can be labeled "fat free" and listed as having 0
   grams of fat if the actual fat content is less than 0.5 grams.
   This is how foods can have oil or high-fat ingredients listed in
   their ingredients yet claim to have only 0 grams of fat.  See below
   for more information on the labeling law in the US.

5.5. Hidden fat

   The fat we are most familiar with is the triglyceride.  All oils
   are triglycerides.  However, there are also other forms of fat that
   you will see in ingredient lists.  They are: lecithin,
   monoglycerides, and diglycerides.  These are fats just like
   triglycerides and also have 9 calories per gram. Mono and
   diglycerides are treated by the body in the same way as regular oil
   (triglycerides).  Lecithin metabolism is somewhat different.

5.6. Finding the fat content of non-labeled foods

   There are many "fat count" books on the market.  These books give
   nutritional info for a variety of fresh and packaged foods.  Buy
   one.  While you can ask on this group about the fat content of
   various foods, it is considered polite to first attempt to look up
   the info yourself.  One of the more complete fat count books is
   "The Corinne T Netzer Encyclopedia of Food Values".

5.7. Fat content of oils

All oils are 100% fat.  This includes olive oil, sesame oil, chili
oil, fish oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, canola oil, safflower oil, and
every other oil.  Oils (and fats) have 9 calories per gram.  Of
course, oils vary widely in the proportion of saturated,
polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fat they contain.

5.8. Fat content of nuts

   Sad to say, but nuts are very high in fat.  Most nuts get between
   60 and 95%CFF. The ONLY exceptions are gingko nuts (13%CFF) and
   chestnuts (8%CFF).

5.9. Other high fat vegetable foods

   Other high-fat vegetable foods include olives at 96%CFF, avocados
   at 86%CFF, seeds (includes tahini) at 60 to 75%CFF, coconut at
   61%CFF, coconut milk at 93%CFF and most tofu at 50%CFF.  There are
   some brands of tofu that have as little as 15%CFF or 1% fat by
   weight (in Canada, look for President's Choice Tofu (15%CFF) and in
   the US look for Mori Nu Lite Tofu (1% fat by weight)).

5.10. TVP
   TVP stands for Texturized Vegetable Protein.  It is made from
   defatted soy flour and is very low in fat (3%CFF).  It is sold in
   flakes, granules, and chunks and can be used as a replacement for
   ground beef.  Note that TVP is not the same thing as HVP,
   hydrolyzed vegetable protein.  HVP is a food additive that often
   contains significant amounts of MSG, monosodium glutamate.  TVP
   does not contain MSG.  Although TVP itself is extremely low in fat,
   sometimes commerical products made from TVP or TVP mixes contain
   significant amounts of added fat.  As always, read the label.

   Calories: 59
   Protein: 11g
   Carbohydrates: 7g
   Fat: 0.2g
   CFF: 3%

5.11. Seitan

   Seitan is a product made from the gluten in wheat.  You can buy
   pre-made seitan, box mixes, or make it by hand from gluten flour or
   even wheat flour.  It is almost all protein with essentially no


6.1. Optimal fat content

   There is no ideal level of dietary fat that applies to everyone.
   Current US recommendations are to eat no more than 30%CFF.  Some
   health professionals recommend 25, 20, 15, or 10%CFF or less.
   Nathan Pritikin, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Dr. John McDougall are three
   proponents of diets with less than 10%CFF.  The primary focus of
   this group (as stipulated in the creation message) is vlf diets in
   the 10%CFF range.  While diets this low in fat are not optimal for
   everyone, this newsgroup is geared to those who have determined
   that such diets are optimal for themselves.

6.2. Keeping track of fat in the diet

   There are several methods of tracking or controlling fat in the
   diet. Some folks set a %CFF goal for their diet and a %CFF goal for
   each food/dish/meal.  Others like to set a fat gram limit for each
   day/week and keep a running total.  Another popular method is to
   not consume any added fat or high fat foods at all, save for a few
   rare treats.  Nutrition software that tracks dietary nutrients can
   also be used. There is no one best way for everyone.  Those who are
   trying to control their overall calorie intake in addition to fat
   often find that keeping track of fat grams works best.  Others find
   it too cumbersome to keep a fat count and feel it is easier to eat
   only those foods that have less than a specific %CFF.  Eating foods
   with no added fat and no high fat foods involves no nutritional
   calculation at all.

6.3. Dietary need for fat

   It is absolutely true that we need fat in our diet to function
   properly. It would be unhealthy to eliminate all fat.  However, in
   a non-junk-food diet composed of a variety of foods it is
   impossible to eliminate all fat.  All foods have fat.  A diet
   consisting only of beans, fruits, vegetables, and grains (and
   *zero* added oils or high-fat ingredients) will naturally obtain
   about 6-10%CFF.  Since few people are this strict 100% of the time,
   most of those who attempt vlf diets get 10-20%CFF.

   We get people on the group from time to time who claim to eat no
   fat or extremely little (say less than 10 grams per day).  Unless
   one is eating mostly fatfree junk food or extremely few calories
   (less than 1200 cal/day) this is highly unlikely.  Keep in mind
   foods labeled "fat free" can contain up to 0.5 grams of fat per
   serving and that all foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, etc)
   contain some fat, even skim milk!  

6.4. How much fat is needed

   We need fat for two main reasons: to help absorb fat soluble
   vitamins (such as vitamin A) and to supply two types of essential
   fatty acids (EFAs) that our bodies need but cannot produce. A diet
   with at least 10 grams of fat per day will result in normal vitamin
   absorption (some recommend at least 5 grams per meal, or 15 grams
   per day).  Experts disagree on how much EFA we need, but it is
   generally a very small amount (most of the doctors involved in vlf
   dietary regimens feel that a varied plant food diet with at least
   4-6%CFF will satisfy EFA needs and that no effort is needed to
   insure adequate intake of these nutrients).

6.5. Two types of EFAs and their dietary sources.
   Our bodies need a source of both n-6 fatty acids and n-3 fatty
   acids (also called "omega-3" fatty acids).  n-6 acids can be found
   in some meats (arachidonic acid), but are particularly plentiful in
   most vegetables (linoleic acid).  n-3 acids are plentiful in fish
   (eicosapentaenoic acid and decosahexaenoic acid) and in some plant
   foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, wheat, soybeans, oats, corn,
   leafy greens and other seeds and nuts (linolenic acid).  Actually,
   most plant foods contain omega-3 in amounts ranging from 1 to 50%
   of total fat.

6.7  RDA for EFAs

   No Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for either essential fatty
   acid have been established, primarily because essential fatty acid
   deficiency has been observed exlcusively in patients with medical
   problems affecting fat intake or absorption.  However, the human
   requirement for linoleic acid has been estimated to be
   approximately 1 to 2% of the total energy intake (2.7% for
   infants).  This level is generally more than met in varied diets
   since fats from vegetables are particularly rich sources of
   linoleic acid. It has been proposed that omega-3 fatty acids should
   be equal to 10 to 25% of the linoleic acid intake (or 0.1 to 0.5%
   of total energy intake) particularly during pregnancy, lactation,
   and infancy.  -- Food and Nutrition Board 1989

6.7. Best vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids

   As long as you eat a varied non-junkfood diet (whether
   non-vegetarian, vegetarian, or vegan), you will most likely get all
   the EFAs you need. But, if (for whatever reason) you would like to
   consume more, the number one best vegetarian source of both EFAs is
   flax seeds.  However, whole flax seeds are not usually digested
   well by the body and linolenic acid is very unstable and goes
   rancid quickly.  You should either use cold-pressed flax seed oil
   that is no more than 3 months old, or freshly ground flax seeds.
   In either case, eat them raw.  Some like to add ground flax seed to
   their breakfast cereal or to make a vinaigrette with flax oil and
   add it to salad.

6.8 Omega-3 fatty acid content of fish and flax oils

   Grams of omega-3 fatty acid in 100 grams of oil
   Cod liver oil                        19.2
   Herring oil                          14.0
   Menhaden oil                         21.7
   MaxEPA, concentrated fish oil        29.4
   Salmon oil                           20.1
   Flax seed oil                        53.3

   Source: USDA: HNIS/PT-103  1988


7.1. Alternatives to sauteing or stir-frying with oil

   The most common technique is to braise the food in a water-based
   liquid, such as wine, broth (vegetable or a defatted meat stock),
   flavored vinegar, or a soy sauce mixture.  Balsamic vinegar is a
   popular braising liquid.  Note that food often tastes more bland
   when cooking without fat and the quantity of spices should usually
   be increased.

7.2. Replacing fat in baked goods.

   The most common technique is to use fruit purees (apple sauce,
   apple butter, mashed bananas, pureed prunes (some like to use baby
   food prunes), etc) or nonfat dairy products (fatfree sour cream,
   fatfree cream cheese, etc) in place of the fat in the recipe.
   Substitution is typically 1 for 1 (I.e. 1 cup applesauce for each
   cup oil).  Many find that a better product is obtained by diluting
   the substitute with water rather than using it full strength.  When
   using fruit purees you will also generally need to decrease the
   sugar.  Note that the fatfree product will be noticeably different
   than the fatted version.


8.1 NLEA

  On May 8th, 1993 the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA)
  of 1990 went into effect in the U.S.A.  It defined terms such as
  "low fat" and "high fiber" for the purposes of food labeling,
  broadened the classes of foods requiring nutritional labeling,
  redesigned the format of the nutritional label, and set standard
  serving sizes for foods.  Some foods are still exempt from
  nutritional labeling, such as meats (regulated by the USDA, not the
  FDA), restaurant foods, and products made by small companies in
  limited volume.

8.2 Definition of terms used in food labeling

  FAT FREE: less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.
  LOW FAT: less than 3 grams of fat per serving.

  For more complete infomation on this subject see (URL):

8.3 Rounding off nutrient values

  Often the caloric values and protein, fat, and carbohydrate amounts
  listed on a food label don't "add up".  The most common reason for
  this is rounding.  The NLEA specifies the following rounding rules
  (all per serving):

  FAT: Amounts between 0 and 0.5 grams can be expressed as 0.  Amounts
  between 0.5 and 5 grams can be rounded to the nearest 0.5 gram
  increment. Amounts greater than 5 grams can be rounded to the
  nearest gram.

  PROTEIN AND CARBOHYDRATES: Amounts between 0 and 0.5 grams can be
  expressed as 0.  Amounts between 0.5 and 1 gram can be expressed as
  "contains less than 1 gram". Amounts above 1 gram are rounded to the
  nearest gram.

  CALORIES FROM FAT: Amounts from 0 to 5 calories can be expressed as
  0. Amounts between 5 and 50 can be rounded to the nearest 5
  calories.  Amounts above 50 calories can be rounded to the nearest
  10 calories.

8.4 Mono and diglycerides

  The NLEA stipulates that all sources of fat must be included in the
  fat measurement; this includes mono and diglycerides.  However, the
  FDA did not mandate that a specific type of test be used in
  measuring the fat and not all tests capture mono and diglycerides.
  Since mono and di-glycerides are used almost exclusively for their
  emulsification properties it is rare that a food contains enough of
  these fats to affect the overall fat content in a nutritionally
  significant way.


9.1. VLF cookbooks

   There are several vlf cookbooks.  I post two cookbook lists to
   this group periodically, one is an annotated listing of vegetarian
   books and cookbooks, the other is a simple bibliography of
   non-vegetarian cookbooks.  The criterion for inclusion in these
   lists is that at least 2/3 of the recipes must have 15%CFF or less.
   If you are adept at adapting moderately lowfat recipes to be vlf,
   there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of moderately lowfat books
   on the market.  As for what's a "good" cookbook, that depends on
   what you are looking for (gourmet? simple? ethnic? quick? vegan?
   already adapted to vlf or easily adaptable? etc).  Feel free to
   ask on the group for specific recommendations.

   The vlf cookbook lists are available via anonymous ftp at:     (non-vegetarian cookbooks) (vegetarian, annotated)

9.2. Background books on vlf diets

   The "founding father" of the vlf diet movement in the West is
   Nathan Pritikin, who began experimenting with a vlf diet in the
   early 60's.  In the late 70's, doctors Dean Ornish and John
   McDougall began using vlf diets to reverse heart disease and other
   chronic ailments.  Since then there has been an explosion of people
   following and advocating vlf diets (including Neal Barnard, Cliff
   Sheats, Terry Shintani, Susan Powter and many others).  The
   following are three of the original works on vlf diets which
   include advice on implementing vlf diets, explanations of why a
   vlf diet is beneficial and recipes.

   McDougall, John.  The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic
   Health. 1990. Plume. ISBN: 0-452-26639-4. (VEGAN)

   Ornish, Dean. Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart
   Disease. 1990. Ballantine Books. ISBN: 0-345-37353-7. (VEGETARIAN)

   Pritikin, Nathan.  Pritikin Program for Diet & Exercise. Bantam
   Books: 1979. ISBN: 0-553-27192-X (NON-VEGETARIAN).

9.3. Related email mailing lists

    EAT-LF -- Eat Low Fat Mailing List
       EAT-LF is for discussion of low fat/very low fat diets and is
       not restricted to vegetarian foods.
       To join send email to:
       With the message:	subscribe eat-lf
       or, for the digest:     subscribe eat-lf-digest

   FATFREE -- Fat Free Vegetarian Mailing List

      FATFREE is a high-volume mailing list for discussion of vlf
      *vegetarianism*.  To join send the message "subscribe" to:

   BA-FATFREE  -- SF Bay Area List

      This is an off-shoot of the FATFREE list.  It is intended for
      folks who live in or near the Bay Area to discuss local issues
      and arrange get-togethers/potlucks.  Temporarily off-line.


      This is local FATFREE list for those who live in or near the
      Chicago Area.  For more information write to:


     Local group for those who live in or near the Philadelphia area.
     For more information write to:

	Patricia Thorp <>

   FIT-L -- Fitness List

      Fitness discussion list: listserv@etsuadmn.bitnet

9.4. Ftp recipe archives


   There is an archive of postings to a.f.f-f from September through
   November of 1993 at the following anonymous ftp site:

   Unfortunately, this site does not appear to be adding any new
   postings to its archive.


   Recipes and other files from the FATFREE mailing list
   are available to all on the web and via anonymous ftp:


     MIRROR SITES (contain recipes only): (Canada) (USA) (Germany)

   If you do not have access to anonymous ftp, you can retrieve files
   by email, using the archive server provided by halcyon.  To get
   started, send the message "help" to "".

   They are also available via gopher at (under
   vegetarian recipes). 

9.5 Nutrition sites on the internet

   USDA food composition data (in raw form) can be found at:

   The above can also be accessed by gopher.

   FDA and Food Center for Safety and Nutrition web site contains
   FDA consumer information and NLEA bulletins:


   Thanks to the following for helpful suggestions and corrections:

   Jeffrey V. Butera <>
   Brian Manning Delaney <>
   Hayden Schultz <>
   Loyd Towe <>
   Leonidas Hepis <>
   Dean Robinson <>
   David Wheat <>
   Curtis Jackson <>

Michelle Dick       East Palo Alto, CA
          Owner, FATFREE Vegetarian Mailing List

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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM