Are low-fat products healthy?
For many years we have been told to lower our fat intake. Low-fat foods have become known as the 'healthier option' and we have been ingrained with a strong fear of fats.
However, research is consistently proving that reducing dietary fats has absolutely no health benefit. In fact, many health professionals believe that the huge dietary shift away from fats has significantly contributed to the obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease epidemic we are currently facing.
The Lancet study looked at the dietary intake of 135,335 people aged 35-70 over a period of approximately seven and a half years. The study found that a high carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas fat intake was associated with lower total mortality and had absolutely no association with cardiovascular disease. A higher saturated fat intake was even associated with a lower risk of stroke!
Despite the overwhelming evidence showing that advice on low-fat diets was a big mistake, many people are still turning to low-fat products.
So, I am going to take you through four important reasons why low-fat products are not the best choice:
Many low-fat versions of popular foods have a significantly higher sugar content than the full-fat option. Eating too much sugar is known to contribute to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and much more.
2. Trans fats
In order to make low-fat products, the food industry replaced natural fats with unsaturated vegetable oils. To replace solid fats with vegetable oils, a process of hydrogenation is used, producing trans fats.
In a nutshell... trans fats are largely produced through unnatural food processing techniques and are associated with numerous health concerns such as heart disease. Aim to consume as little of these as possible by staying away from low-fat products (particularly low fat spreads), processed foods, bakery products and fried foods.
Top tip: Look out for the words 'partially hydrogenated oil', 'partially hydrogenated fat' and 'trans fats' on product labels.
3. Fat-soluble vitamins
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins that are mostly found in high-fat foods. Opting for low-fat products could mean missing out on some important nutrients.
For example, when whole milk is processed to become a low-fat variety, the nutrients in the milk fat are also removed, which includes fat-soluble vitamins! Similarly, if you are eating egg whites without the yolk, you are cutting our a powerhouse of nutrients.
Good dietary sources of fat-soluble vitamins:
- Vitamin A: oily fish, liver.
- Vitamin D: eggs, oily fish.
- Vitamin E: nuts, seeds, avocados.
- Vitamin K: eggs, butter, liver, dark green vegetables.
Including fats (and protein) in your meals and snacks helps to keep you full and provide you with sustained energy levels.
A great example is seen in a large study of preschoolers that looked at the type of milk they were drinking. The preschoolers who drank low-fat milk were found to have an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese between two and four years old. The researchers hypothesised that this was likely to be because the higher fat milk was more filling, potentially lowering overall food intake through the day.
Next time you are food shopping make sure you opt for the full-fat natural options and walk straight past the highly processed low-fat products disguised as 'healthy'!
Dehghan, Mahshid, et al. Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. The Lancet 2017.
Scharf RJ, Demmer RT, DeBoer MD. Longitudinal evaluation of milk type consumed and weight status in preschoolers. Archives of Disease in Childhood 2013. 98(5): 335-340. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439101/
University of California - Irvine. "How Fatty Foods Curb Hunger." Science Daily 2008
Yang, Quanhe, et al. "Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults." JAMA internal medicine 2014: 516-524
German JB, Cora JD; Composition, structure and absorption of milk lipids: a source of energy, fat-soluble nutrients and bioactive molecules. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 2006. 46(1): 57-92
Dhaka, Vandana, et al. "Trans fats—sources, health risks and alternative approach-A review." Journal of food science and technology 2011. 48(5): 534-541
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