Why is it that whipped topping in a tub can be labeled "fat free" when it contains hydrogenated palm oil? Is this topping worse for your health than whipped cream or the kind that comes in an aerosol can? —A.V., Fallon, Nevada
As you've pointed out, whipped topping in a tub does contain hydrogenated palm oil, a type of fat that nutrition experts advise folks to avoid because it is high in saturated and trans fats.
According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, to qualify as "fat free", a food must contain less than .5 gram total fat per serving. In this case, the total amount of fat provided by the palm oil is evidently less than the .5 gram limit for each 2 tablespoon serving.
The serving size amounts are also defined by the FDA to guarantee consistency between products…and to prevent manufacturers from misleading consumers by adjusting serving sizes to justify their marketing claims.
The creamy toppings are not considered "health food", but there is room for them in an overall healthy diet.
Nutritionally, 2 tablespoons of homemade whipped cream will contain about 3 grams of saturated fat and 5 grams total fat. The same amount of aerosol whipped cream has 1 gram of saturated fat and 2 grams total fat. And as noted above, the fat-free whipped topping contains less than .5 gram total fat.
If fat is your only consideration, the fat-free whipped topping is a better choice because it contains less of the cholesterol-raising saturated and trans fats.