Spray foods give flavor without the fat, calories

The sound is distinct: pump, pump, followed by a soft "pheeft." It's a sound that signals butter without cholesterol, salad dressing without fat or cheesecake without calories.

It's the sound of spray food, and it's filling the shelves of your grocery store.

The idea of spray-on foods is not entirely new to the marketplace. Aerosol cans of Easy Cheese have been around since 1988, and nonstick cooking spray has been a household staple since the 1960s. In recent years, though, the onset of sprayable toppings and condiments has spread to new arenas.

Switch it for spray

Typically, spray foods are lighter versions of and substitutes for the real thing. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray, for example, is a no-calorie, no-fat butter substitute that can be used as a topping and for cooking. The same goes for Parkay Butter Spray - no calories, no fat. Though they're slightly saltier than regular butter, butter sprays are an optimal alternative.

"We found that portion control is one of the overall, key drivers in the spray-food category," said Javier Martin, brand manager for Unilever, the company that produces I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray.

A must for light cooking, Pam nonstick cooking sprays can be used in place of oil as a low-calorie, low-fat nonstick coating for pans and dishes. Pam sprays come in olive oil and butter flavors, as well as specialty formulas for baking and grilling. Most recently, Pam has brought an organic line to grocery store shelves. Available in canola and olive oil flavors, the new organic line meets USDA standards and features the same benefits as regular Pam.

Whereas traditional salad dressing can add upwards of 10 grams of fat and 100-plus calories to a bed of greens, the Salad Spritzer from Wish-Bone, also under the Unilever brand, weighs in with 1 gram of fat and 10 to 15 calories for 10 sprays, depending on the flavor. The dressing isn't thick or creamy, but still adds a kick with flavors such as Caesar Delight, Balsamic Breeze Vinaigrette, Raspberry Bliss and Asian Silk.

"A common misconception is that eating salad is healthy, but consumers don't realize that when you pour on the dressing you are also pouring on the calories," Martin said. "By controlling the amount of dressing on your salad, you cut calories down to a minimum."

In 2001, Innovative Candy Concepts introduced a spray candy, Too Tart Candy Spray. The sprays can be used as a replacement for traditional sweet treats. Made from 66 percent fruit juice, the spray candy contains about 15 calories and 2 grams of sugar per container. It's considered a "free food" by the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association.

Later this month, Innovative Candy Concepts is expected to extend its line of sweet sprays to include the Sinfully Delicious Gourmet Dessert Spray. Fat-, calorie- and sugar-free, the dessert sprays will feature flavors such as milk chocolate turtle, strawberry cheesecake and Key lime pie.

Some sprays enhance food

Instead of replacing foods, Flavor Diet Spray aims to enhance them. Because stripping treats of butter, oil and other fattening ingredients can leave foods flavorless, a few pumps of flavor spray helps to put the yum back into diet cookies, crackers and other foods.

Broken down into four categories, the flavor sprays come in more than 30 flavors. Selections range from Parmesan cheese or Memphis BBQ to birthday cake or mango pineapple.

"We are living in a health-conscious society, where people are constantly searching for a way to a healthier lifestyle," said David Burke, chef and creator of Flavor Diet Spray, in a press release. "I created this unique line of flavor sprays so people can enjoy the tastes of all of their favorite foods without experiencing the guilt."

Sprays targeted

to picky pooches

Pets are part of the spray craze, too. With Our Pet's Gourmet Spray for dogs, canines can eat healthy grub that only tastes like greasy table scraps. Since dogs only have about 10 percent of the taste buds of humans and their sense of smell can decrease with age or illness, the spray emits a natural aroma into food to encourage picky pooches to lick plates clean. The sprays are available in fish, beef, chicken and bacon-cheddar flavors, and have no effect on nutritional value.