I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is a popular butter substitute made by Unilever. Its popularity largely stems from the product’s claims that it contains 0 calories and 0 grams of fat per serving, making it an appealing option for those looking to reduce their caloric intake or avoid dairy products.
But are these claims really true? Is this famous “butter” spread truly calorie and fat-free? Let’s take a deeper look at the ingredients and nutrition facts behind I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! to find out.
What is I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter?
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is a margarine product designed to taste and perform like real butter while containing less fat and calories. It was first introduced in the United States in 1991 by Unilever and quickly grew in popularity as consumers sought out lower-calorie alternatives to traditional butter.
The original product contained a blend of water, vegetable oils (like soybean, palm, and canola), and a small amount of fat to provide a buttery flavor and texture. It also contained artificial flavors, beta-carotene for color, and preservatives.
Over the years, Unilever has reformulated I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! to improve its nutritional profile. Current ingredients include:
- Oil blend (soybean, palm, canola, and olive oils)
- Less than 2% of salt, natural flavors, vegetable mono and diglycerides,beta carotene (for color), vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color)
The product now contains a bit more fat than the original, to provide a richer buttery taste and texture. However, Unilever has reduced the saturated fat and eliminated trans fats, both of which are considered less healthy than unsaturated vegetable oils.
Here is the nutrition information for a 1 tablespoon (14g) serving of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! spray, according to the product website:
As you can see, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! appears to live up to its promise of being virtually calorie, fat, and cholesterol-free. But how is this possible? Let’s dig into the reasons behind the 0 calorie and 0 gram fat claims.
How is I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter 0 Calories?
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!’s calorie-free status comes down to two key factors:
1. Tiny Serving Size
At first glance, 0 calories and 0 grams of fat seems too good to be true for a buttery spread. However, the key is the very small serving size of just 1 tablespoon (14 grams).
By law, companies are allowed to round down the calories and nutrients if a single serving contains less than 5 calories, 0.5 grams of fat, or 0.5 grams of other nutrients like carbs or protein.
So while I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! does contain a minimal amount of fat and calories, it’s not enough to legally require declaring it in the nutrition label. The tiny serving size of 14 grams allows the company to round everything down to 0.
2. Fat Replacers
In addition to carefully controlling serving sizes, food manufacturers also use fat replacers to eliminate calories and fat:
- Water – Replaces the fat volume to mimic butter’s consistency and texture.
- Modified food starch – Made from starchy foods like corn, wheat, or potatoes – thickens the product while adding minimal calories.
- Cellulose gel or gum – Provide creaminess and bulk.
- Proteins – Help bind water.
- Emulsifiers – Allow oil and water to blend, creating a smooth texture.
Combining water with these various thickeners and emulsifiers allows I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! to closely replicate the indulgent, creamy properties of real butter – minus the large amounts of fat and calories.
The ingredients work together to provide a mostly water-based product that sprays and spreads like the real thing.
So Does This Mean It’s Really 0 Calories?
While I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is virtually calorie and fat-free based on its tiny serving size and special formula, technically it likely contains trace amounts of fat and calories that are rounded down to 0 on the nutrition label.
Consumer lab tests have detected minuscule amounts of fat, carbohydrates and calories in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! – approximately:
- 1.5 calories
- 0.38 grams of fat
- 0.58 grams of carbohydrates
Per serving, this works out to about 1-2% fat and a negligible amount of calories.
So while not completely 0 calories, each serving would contain only a fraction of a gram of fat and couple calories. The FDA allows rounding down since this is such a minimal amount compared to real butter, which contains about 100 calories and 11g of fat per tablespoon.
The Pros and Cons of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
Now that we know how I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! achieves its impressive nutrition stats, let’s evaluate some of the pros and cons of using this popular butter alternative.
- Very low calorie and fat compared to real butter
- Contains no cholesterol or trans fats
- Lower in saturated fat than butter
- Serving for serving, contains far fewer calories than real butter
- Safe for those with lactose intolerance or avoiding dairy
- Provides a cost-effective, veggie-oil based alternative to premium butters
- Convenient spray, squeeze bottle, or tub options
- Mimics rich, buttery flavor well for spreads, cooking, and baking
For those limiting calories, fats, cholesterol, or dairy products, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! offers a tablespoon-for-tablespoon calorie bargain compared to real butter. Just note that regular intake of palm oil has been linked to negative health effects, so be mindful of overdoing it.
- Not truly fat or calorie-free (despite label)
- Highly processed and contains additives
- Palm oil cultivation impacts the environment
- Not considered a “whole food”
- Contains vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids
- Repeated high heat can damage vegetable oils
- Doesn’t impart the true nutritional benefits of butter
- Can’t perfectly mimic the rich taste of real butter
While I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is an engineered product that mimics butter well for spreading and cooking, it lacks the true nutrition and flavor of real dairy butter. Some drawbacks are the highly processed nature, additives, and vegetable oils used in production. It’s not considered a natural, minimally processed food like butter.
The Bottom Line
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! does live up to its promise of being virtually calorie and fat-free thanks to its tiny serving size and special fat-replacer formula of water, thickeners, and emulsifiers. However, it contains trace amounts of fat and calories – not the completely 0 grams claimed.
Compared to real butter, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is the clear calorie bargain. But as a highly processed, vegetable oil-based product, it lacks the natural nutrition of real butter and may contain questionable ingredients. While fine in moderation, relying too heavily on this butter alternative could negatively impact health in the long run.
Those closely tracking calories may benefit from using I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, but should be mindful that zero fat and calories is a marketing claim, not completely true. For improved nutrition, recreate the flavor by combining small amounts of real butter with olive oil or other healthy fats, or use natural products like avocado or nut butters.
At the end of the day, no highly-engineered product can perfectly replace real, minimally processed foods like quality dairy butter. But enjoyed occasionally, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! can be a fine alternative for lighter spreads and cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is I can’t believe it’s not butter vegan?
No, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is not vegan. While made from vegetable oils, it contains milk derivatives (whey protein concentrate) and vitamins derived from dairy products (vitamin A palmitate). It is also produced in facilities that manufacture dairy items. So strict vegans should avoid this product.
Is I can’t believe it’s not butter keto friendly?
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! can fit into a ketogenic diet plan, but only in very small amounts due to the tiny serving size. A 1 tablespoon serving contains under 1 total carb gram and trace amounts of fat. So used sparingly for cooking or spreading, it’s a decent low-carb, low-calorie butter alternative for keto diets.
Is I can’t believe it’s not butter dairy free?
No, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is not dairy free. It contains whey protein concentrate and vitamin A palmitate derived from dairy sources. People with milk allergies or avoiding dairy should not consume this butter replacement.
Is I can’t believe it’s not butter gluten free?
Yes, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is labeled as a gluten-free food. It does not contain any wheat, barley, or rye ingredients that are sources of gluten. The product should be safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. But check labels closely for any formula changes.
Does I can’t believe it’s not butter go bad?
Like normal butter, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! has the potential to go bad after long enough storage. An unopened tub typically lasts about 4-6 months past the sell-by date. Once opened, the product should keep for 1-2 months in the refrigerator before going rancid. Signs of spoiled butter substitute include sour smell, change in color, mold, or separation.
Can you bake with I can’t believe it’s not butter?
Yes, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! can be used for baking. Its ability to mimic the properties of butter make it suitable for replacing real butter in recipes for cookies, cakes, muffins, frosting, and more. Start with a 1:1 butter to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! ratio. You make need to tweak recipes to account for differences in moisture and fat.
Is I can’t believe it’s not butter safe for babies?
No, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is not recommended for babies under 12 months old due to potential choking hazards from the spray formulation. Always check with your pediatrician before introducing any new foods to babies and toddlers. Once old enough, it can be an acceptable occasional butter alternative if tolerated. But breastmilk and infant formula should make up the bulk of an infant’s diet.
Can dogs eat I can’t believe it’s not butter?
It’s best to avoid giving dogs I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! While not toxic, it provides no nutritional value. The highly processed oils, artificial flavors, and sweeteners can also upset your dog’s stomach. Due to the spray nozzle risk, it poses a choking hazard as well. Stick to dog-safe foods and treats to be safe.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! stands out among butter alternatives for closely mimicking real butter’s taste, look, and texture with a fraction of the fat and calories. While not completely free of fats and calories as claimed, it does deliver significant calorie savings versus regular butter when used in moderation.
This popular spread fits well into a low-calorie or low-fat diet. But remember, relying too heavily on highly processed foods can negatively impact long term health. Use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! as an occasional substitute for real dairy butter, not an everyday replacement. Check labels closely and opt for products free of concerning additives when possible.
Ultimately, no laboratory-formulated product can perfectly replace the nutrition, taste, and culinary properties of quality real-food ingredients like grass-fed butter. But for an engineered butter alternative, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! comes pretty darn close.