Low-fat options are often viewed as the best choice, “healthy fats” by people who want to lose weight. Just to be clear, when we say ‘low-fat’ we’re referring to items that have been commercially altered to remove fat for supposed health reasons. Examples include low-fat yoghurt, low-fat margarine, and low-fat cheese.
The big question is: are these low-fat options really the best alternative if you want to shift kilos?
Here are 4 reasons why ‘low-fat’ isn’t necessarily the healthiest option.
1. WE NEED FAT IN OUR DIET
Healthy Fats (i.e. butter, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds) enable a variety of bodily functions and processes, including absorbing certain vitamins and hormone production.
Vitamins A, D, E & K are all ‘fat soluble’ (fat is needed in the bloodstream in order for these vitamins to be absorbed by the body).
According to a study at California North State University College of Medicine, these vitamins play crucial roles in a host of bodily functions, not limited to sight, immune function, bone health and the ability of your blood to clot properly.
Healthy fat intake is also essential to ensure hormonal balance and production.
Fat intake is associated with the production of cholesterol. NB: By this, we mean HDL, or the ‘good kind’ of cholesterol2, which is the building block of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are essential for lean muscle development as well as long-term bone health.
2. LOW-FAT FOODS ARE NOT A HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE TO SATURATED FATS
Saturated fats are those fats that are usually solid at room temperature I.e., butter, animal fats, and coconut oil.
The consumption of saturated fats has long been associated with coronary heart disease (CHD) and other negative health conditions. This was a prime motivator for the development of low-fat food alternatives from as far back as the 1950s, based on the research of American physiologist Dr Ancel Keys1.
But according to Drs Malhotra, Redberg and Meier in a collaborative study between University Hospitals in the UK, US and Switzerland, there was no connection between saturated fat intake and a greater risk of heart disease2. The panel further criticised the unbalanced focus on reporting saturated fat consumption as the culprit that led to the creation of the ‘low fat’ market of food products as misguided, due to ‘unbalanced reporting of data’.
Instead, according to their findings, the focus should shift away from the reduction of saturated fat intake, and more toward eating whole foods (rather than processed), increased physical activity and stress reduction.
3. WHEN WE OPT FOR LOW-FAT OUR SUGAR INTAKE INCREASES
Fat is a great source of flavour. So, by reducing/removing fat from an item, a flavour gap is created that needs to be replaced.
Processed sugar is often used as a replacement for the flavour removed when fat is taken away. This means that while you may think you’re getting a healthy choice, what you’re getting instead is additional processed sugar.
Processed sugar is problematic because your body digests it very quickly. This means when you consume processed sugar, you won’t feel the same sense of fullness as if you’d consumed a full-fat alternative. As a result, you’ll shortly feel hungry again which can lead to consuming even more calories.
Additionally, when you consume processed sugar, you’ll feel a sudden rush of energy followed by an equally sudden dip in energy (referred to as the ‘peak-trough cycle’). This dip in energy leads to a desire for more sugar to prop up that dip in energy. This creates a vicious cycle where you need more and more sugar to keep your energy levels up, which leads to unnecessary weight gain.
4. When fat is removed, A feeling of ‘fullness’ IS REMOVED TOO
Another issue with processing foods to ‘low-fat’ is the loss of texture3. For instance, your taste experience is different with a full-fat version in comparison to a low-fat equivalent.
The way food producers replace this lack of texture in items like salad dressings is by adding more sugars and more carbohydrates.
One of the benefits of full-fat items of the feeling of satiety (fullness) when you eat them. For example, if you’ve ever compared eating a low-fat salad dressing versus olive oil, you’ll notice that olive oil leaves you feeling fuller post-consumption.
When you go for the low-fat choice, you’ll need to consume more to get the same feeling of satiety. So, you wind up consuming more when the intention is to consume less.
How to enjoy full-fat options without guilt
While we recommend opting for full-fat versus low-fat items, that’s not the green light to consume full-fat with impunity.
Fats are still over twice as calorific as carbohydrates or protein. So here are a few tips to maximise the benefits of full-fat consumption without overdoing it.
Full-fat options are tasty and filling, so you can have a smaller portion and still feel full.
As we’re not big fans of calorie counting, use your thumb as an effective measuring tool for fat quantities to consume each meal.
If you have 1-2 thumb-length portions of fats with each meal, you’ll get the correct quantities for healthy consumption.
Download our free Portion Control Guide for further information.
This Portion Control Guide shows you a simple way to measure portions for yourself personally. No calorie counting, weighing or measuring required!
In order to maximise the benefits of healthy fat intake, consume a balanced combination of saturated, poly-unsaturated, and mono-unsaturated fats.
Make sure you divide your fat intake equally between saturated, poly- and mono-unsaturated fat sources each day.
Here’s a short list to remind you of what these types of fats look like4:
- Saturated (fats that are solid at room temperature): butter, lard, ghee, palm oil, coconut oil
- Poly-unsaturated: Walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds
- Mono-unsaturated: Peanuts, almonds, avocado, olive oi
THE BIG TAKE AWAY
Don’t view fat as an evil to be avoided. Instead, view fats as a necessary part of a healthy diet. Give the low-fat options a miss and focus on managing portions of full-fat alternatives.
ABOUT JAMES STARING
James Staring is a personal trainer based in Clapham, London. His methods have featured in publications such as Your Fitness, Hello, Healthy, Daily Mail, Closer, and many more. After giving up smoking and entering the fitness industry in 2009, James has focused on his passion to help others transform their health and fitness. However, James is convinced most people struggle so much more than they need to in an effort to improve their fitness. Through his company, Fit to Last, James has helped hundreds of men and women make small adjustments in their daily habits to transform their fitness and to love how they look and feel.