Low-Fat Foods: Good or Bad?

Low fat is out and healthy fat is in. Does that mean the era of low fat cookies is over? Not necessarily. Find out which fats are now recommended and how low fat foods can fit into a healthy diet.
Related To:
158526592

158526592

avocado

Photo by: Mariusz Blach

Mariusz Blach

Low-fat is out and healthy fat is in. Does that mean the era of low-fat cookies is over? Not necessarily. Find out which fats are now recommended and how low-fat foods can fit into a healthy diet.

Why do we need fat?

Fat isn’t bad — we actually need it to survive. Fat helps protect and cushion our critical organs, helps keeps nerves functions, keeps us warm and is a valuable energy source. It also helps transport vitamins A, D, E and K through our body and helps our immune system properly function.

About 20 to 30 years ago, the recommendation to go low-fat took America by storm. The creation and sale of low-fat products became the hottest fad. To this day, folks still can’t shake the low-fat state of mind.

What is a low-fat food?

The only guideline to claim a food is low fat is that it contains 3 grams of or less of fat per serving. Food companies reformulated their food to decrease the fat content. The problem? If you toss the fat, out goes the flavor, so sugar and other sweeteners were added in its place.

What do the studies show?

In January 2011 the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans based on the latest scientific data suggested it’s all about quality of fats. The recommendations focused on choosing healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, olives and avocado, while still keeping sources of saturated fats like butter, whole milk, beef and chicken with skin to less than 10 percent of overall daily calories. It also suggests minimizing trans fat, which is found in margarine and some processed foods like chips.

So what about the low-fat packaged goodies lining the supermarket shelves? Many of them contain a good amount of added sugar, which the new guidelines suggest you should cut out. Studies have repeatedly shown that we’re over-consuming calories, especially from the added sugars coming from these types of packaged goods.

How do I choose when to go low fat?

Not sure how to change your diet to meet the newest recommendations? Here are some shopping and portion-control tips for different types of low-fat and full-fat foods:

  • Low-fat cookies, muffins and other pastries: Read the nutrition facts panel to compare low-fat and regular varieties. The regular ones may be a healthier choice with less sugars and other additives.
  • Low-fat milk: It’s still recommended to choose low-fat (1 percent) and fat free milk instead of whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk.
  • Low-fat dressing: Vinaigrette dressings are made from oil, but bottled dressings contain added sugars and numerous additives. If you have time to make your own, go for it -- it's easy to make a week's worth at a time! If not, choose a bottled vinaigrette.
  • Nuts: These are packed with healthy unsaturated fats, so they're an important part of a healthy diet.  Since each nut has about 7 calories, choose about 20 (or a small handful) at a time to moderate calories.
  • Oils: With 120 calories in each tablespoon of ANY oil, it’s easy to overdose on calories. Choose olive or canola oil at the grocery store, but use it in small amounts.
  • Avocado: Packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, these are a definitely "do." But since they're so fatty, keep portions to 1/8 of an avocado per meal or snack.

Bottom Line: Low-fat products have their place, but don’t always taste good. Go for a small portion of the tastier full-fat version instead!

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

You Might Also Like:

Keep Reading

Next Up

Another Reason to Pass on Artificial Sweeteners

New research is giving us another reason to question the safety of artificial sweeteners. Researchers concluded that artificial sweeteners may be contributing to diseases like obesity and diabetes. It may be another reason you should swap the pink or blue packet of the artificial stuff for something more natural.

Nutrition News: Chipotle Unseats Subway, FDA Added-Sugar Label Rules and Soybean Oil Health Effects

Subway cedes top “healthy” chain spot to Chipotle; FDA to require added-sugar info on labels; and a study says soybean oil may be making us fat and diabetic.

Label Decoder: Cane Juice

Have you been reading your food labels lately? You may have seen the sweetener “cane juice” under the list of ingredients. But is it really better than sugar?

5 Pieces of Diet Advice You're Better Off Skipping

When the New Year comes and weight loss promises made, diet advice soon follows – and lots of it. Wade through the sea of dieting advice by ignoring these 5 suggestions.

How to Cut the Sugar from Summer Drinks

We consume over three times the daily recommended amount of added sugar each day, and sugary beverages are one of the main contributors to this sugar overload.

Baking With Sugar Alternatives

Sugar helps make baked goodies puffy, golden brown and moist, but plain granulated sugar isn’t your only option. Whether you’re looking to cut calories, use less processed ingredients or simply change up the flavor, here are some options.

News Feed: Fish and Brains, Sugar in Fruit, Pomegranate Healthfulness

Eating fish may aid your brain, sugar in fruit beats sugar in soda — plus, parsing pomegranates and health.

Is Sugar Toxic?

A recent episode of 60 Minutes titled “Is Sugar Toxic” had folks buzzing over Twitter and whispering at the water cooler. But is sugar really the enemy ?

Nutrition News: Healthy Food Choices, Fructose and Trans Fat Under Fire, Top Produce Picks in June

Researchers urge focus on healthy food benefits, fructose study has startling results, the FDA may ban trans fats, and get the top produce pick for June.

Farewell, My Sweets: The Sugar Shunning Trend

If fat was the star dietary villain for the past few decades, sugar is quickly stepping up to take its place.