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Are Low-Fat Foods Healthy? The Skinny on "Diet Food"

Are Low-Fat Foods Healthy? The Skinny on "Diet Food"

Are low-fat foods healthy? What are low-fat foods really? If you are watching your weight, it is definitely important to keep and eye on what you eat. Every diet should include the right number of calories and macronutrients, including carbs, protein, and fat. However, many people are convinced that they need to choose low-fat or fat-free food in order to lose weight. But could these products have health consequences?

What is low-fat or fat-free food?

First, we need to define what low-fat and fat-free foods are. Generally, food that has 3 grams of fat or less for every 100 calories is a low-fat product. Meanwhile, “fat-free” means that there is virtually zero grams of fat.

In addition, pay attention to product labels of low-fat food for words and phrases that include to following:

  • Non-fat, fat-free
  • Skim (for non-fat dairy products)
  • Light or “lite”
  • Reduced fat
  • Less fat
  • Percentages (e.g. 50% less fat)
  • Diet-friendly
  • Skinny

Healthy Eating Myths and Facts You Should Know

About other diet food

Other diet foods may be low-fat, low-calorie, low-carb, or a combination of these. If you are on a fat-restricted diet due to personal preference or for certain conditions, you need to check the label and packaging closely. Some food that are listed as “diet-friendly” may be low-carb or sugar-free but not low-fat.

Are low-fat foods healthy?

Contrary to popular belief, we all need fat in our diet. However, many dieters are told to avoid fat because they are calorie-dense and may contribute to diseases like obesity, heart disease, and clogged arteries.

It is true that out of the three macronutrients, carbs, fat, and protein) fat contains the most calories. While carbs and protein contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram. Because of this, people who need to cut down on calories end up targeting their fat intake to make a bigger deficit.

However, low-fat diet food may be misleading at times. Being low-fat or fat-free does not automatically make something healthy. The reason for this is the additional processing and ingredients that go into the product to make up for the lack of fat. There may be more sugar, preservatives, sodium, and artificial flavorings. In addition, healthier unsaturated fat may be replaced with hydrogenated (saturated) or trans fat.

are low-fat foods healthy

Examples of unhealthy low-fat food:

  • Soft drinks and soda
  • Sweetened tea and coffee
  • Yogurt and frozen yogurt
  • Reduced fat peanut butter
  • Enriched breakfast cereals
  • Light margarine and sandwich spreads
  • Light salad dressings

Pitfalls of low-fat diet food

As mentioned previously, some food that have less fat can have more sugar. Remember that too much sugar (hyperglycemia) can be harmful, leading to diabetes, atherosclerosis, and abdominal fat accumulation. In addition, many people tend to over eat when they consume diet food, under the impression it is healthy.

Another pitfall of low-fat food is less absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). These vitamins are essential for many tissues and organ functions. Without vitamin A, D, E, and K, you may experience skin, bone, eye, and bleeding problems.

In contrast, food that is rich in certain fats can improve health and keep you feeling full. Medium-chain trigylcerols (MCTs) are one category of so-called healthy fats. Virgin coconut oil contains the MCT called lauric acid. This fat is calorie-dense; however, it has been shown to control appetite and improve satiety.

In the long run, eating better quality sources of fat can actually help you lose weight.

How much fat should I be eating?

The amount of fat you should eat depends on a variety of factors. These factors include age, sex, activity level, and health status. In order to calculate the amount of fat you should be eating, it is important to first determine how many calories you need a day.

From this number of calories, 20 to 35% should be from fat. Of this percent, 10% or less should be from saturated and trans fat the “bad” fat. Because each gram of fat has 9 calories, divide the number of calories by 9 to determine how many grams of fat you should have per day.

For example, someone with a typical 2000 calorie per day diet would need to consume between 44 to 78 grams of fat per day. Of this number, they should consume 22 grams of saturated fat or less.

are low fat foods healthy

Key takeaways

In summary, not all low-fat foods are healthy. Alternatively, you can still eat full-fat food that is healthy, as long as it is within your daily requirements. Low-fat drinks and food should still be eaten in moderation, just as any other food. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietician to determine your dietary requirements.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Low-fat foods https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/take-control-your-weight/low-fat-foods.html Accessed January 28, 2021

Low fat diet https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diet/low-fat-diet.html Accessed January 28, 2021

Low fat diet https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553097/ Accessed January 28, 2021

Which are healthier: low-fat or full-fat foods? https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/gastrointestinal-articles/which-are-healthier-low-fat-or-full-fat-foods Accessed January 28, 2021

What’s an easy way to see how much fat I eat each day? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/fat-grams/faq-20058496 Accessed January 28, 2021

Chapter 15 Fats and Satiety https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53550/ Accessed January 28, 2021

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Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated Jan 29