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What Is a Low-Fat Diet and Is It Right for You?

If you’ve considered losing weight, you may have thought about cutting fats with a low-fat diet. There are some fats out there that are bad for your health. However, healthy fats from some foods can play an important role in good health and healthy weight loss.

Before you start a low-fat diet, Karen Hemmes, a registered dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, details this diet, its pros and cons and if it’s a good fit for you.

What is a low-fat diet?

“A low-fat diet is an eating plan that is low in total fat, regardless of the type of dietary fat consumed,” Hemmes said. “Generally, it’s limited to less than 30% of your total daily calories from fat.”

Dietary fats are the ones you eat, and there are several types - some good and others bad for you. Here we break down both:

Unhealthy fats

Saturated fat

 This type of fat occurs naturally in animal sources like red and fatty cuts of meat, processed meats, butter, cheese and whole milk but also in plant-based foods like coconut and cocoa butter.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends limiting the amount of saturated “bad” fats in your diet. It’s recommended that no more than 7% to 10% of your daily calories come from saturated fats.

“While these types of fats serve a purpose in our bodies, it’s important to limit your intake,” Hemmes said. “Diets high in saturated fats can put you at greater risk for high cholesterol and heart disease.”

Trans fat

It goes by trans-fat, trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated oils and can be found in many foods you hate to love. “Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in some animal products and in fried and baked goods. However, most trans fats are formed from the manufacturing of oils,” Hemmes said.

Like saturated fat, trans fats can increase your bad cholesterol levels and lower your good cholesterol too. This increases your risk for developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

“It’s best to avoid trans fats as much as possible,” Hemmes said. “Industrial food companies must list trans fats on their nutritional labeling. However, be mindful that they can list trans-fat as 0 grams if the product contains less than 0.5grams of fat, which can be misleading to the public.”

Healthy fats
  • Monounsaturated fat: These fats can be found in avocados, olives, nuts and vegetable oils. They help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and help maintain overall health.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: Like monounsaturated fats, this fat can also help lower LDL cholesterol. It is also essential for your body’s functions, including blood clotting. Foods high in polyunsaturated fats are seeds, cooking oils, nuts and fish, such as salmon and herring.

“Both of these types of fat are considered ‘good fats’ because they provide important nutrients and help lower your risk for heart disease and stroke,” Hemmes said.

What foods should you eat on a low-fat diet?

Fruits and vegetables
  • All fresh, frozen and canned fruit (canned in water or own juice, no sugar added)
  • All fresh, frozen and canned vegetables (no salt or low-sodium)
Grains and pastas
  • Whole grain breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice
  • Rice or noodles
  • Soft (corn or wheat) tortillas
  • Oatmeal
Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Nonfat or 1% milk (or milk alternative)
  • Nonfat or low-fat yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese
Fish, meat, chicken and other protein
  • Lean meats and proteins, including skinless chicken or turkey 
  • Lean cuts of pork (tenderloin, pork loin chops/roasts) and beef (extra lean ground beef, round, tenderloin, and sirloin cuts)
  • Baked or broiled fish
  • Egg whites or egg substitutes
  • Lentils, beans and peas
Fats and oils, in moderation
  • Unsaturated vegetable oils, including canola, olive, soybean and sunflower
  • Margarine that doesn’t contain trans fatty acids

What foods should you avoid on a low-fat diet?

Grains
Full-fat dairy products
  • Whole milk, 2% milk
  • Yogurt and ice cream made with whole milk
  • Half and half, heavy cream and whipping cream
  • Most cheeses high in fat
  • Full-fat salad dressings, including Caesar, blue cheese or ranch
Fatty meats and meat alternatives
  • Processed meats and cold cuts, such as bacon, sausage and lunch meats
  • High-fat cuts of meat
  • Fried meats
  • Organ meats
  • Whole eggs and yolks
Fats and oils
  • Butter, most margarine and shortening
  • Coconut, palm oil and palm kernel oil

Advantages of a low-fat diet

If you’re eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, restricting your fat intake isn’t generally necessary. However, under some circumstances, a diet low in fat may be beneficial to your health.

A diet low in fat may:

“This diet may also be helpful if you have trouble digesting or absorbing fat, if you’re recovering from gallbladder surgery or if you have gallbladder or pancreas disease,” Hemmes said.

Another benefit is fiber. Eating a high fiber diet can help you maintain your health. Fiber-rich foods are naturally low in fat and contain cancer-fighting and heart healthy properties. “Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains supply vitamins and minerals, as well as dietary fiber, which is linked to a decreased cardiovascular disease and obesity,” Hemmes said.

Disadvantages of a low-fat diet

While you may lose weight in the short-term with this eating plan, it may leave you feeling hungry due to low levels of fat and may put you at risk for overeating carbohydrates.

“Some low-fat foods are high in sugar, sodium and starch and may actually counter any health goals you are hoping to make,” Hemmes said. “Frequently eating highly processed, low-fat foods may increase your risk of metabolic disorders.”

In addition, on a reduced-fat or no-fat diet, you may not get all the key nutrients your body needs. “Your body needs dietary fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K,” Hemmes said. “By limiting fat, your body may not get necessary nutrients it needs.”

Is a diet low in fat a healthy choice for me?

Whether a low-fat diet is beneficial for you will depend on you and your wellness goals. It’s best to talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian before starting any new diet. They can evaluate your health and make individual recommendations and modifications to your diet.

Takeaway

A low-fat diet consists of moderate to high carbohydrates, moderate protein and low fat. This diet consists of lean meats, beans, grains, fruits, vegetables and products considered low in fat, such as low-fat dairy.

A low-fat diet has often been used as a form of treatment to help minimize the occurrence of health conditions, such as obesity and heart disease. Eating a diet containing fat helps to provide satiety or a feeling of being full, so limiting fat intake to an extreme may be counterproductive.

If you’re considering a low-fat diet or another diet, talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian first, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

Recipes

Try out the low-fat diet with the below recipes from Taste of Home.

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