Should I Eat: Low Fat

There is so much information about how to eat a healthy diet. And almost all of it conflicts.

So, let’s discuss some of the favorite foodie theories out there. After all, with a little knowledge, everyone can make the choices that work best for them. Let’s start right out with the sacred cow of weight loss: low fat.

People always tell me about how they are cleaning up their diet. And then, they proudly show me the fat free mayo or reduced fat ice cream freshly purchased at the store.

There’s just one problem. Low fat doesn’t necessarily help you lose weight.

To most people, fat free and low fat equal healthy. That is what we have been taught for the past 3 decades. Carbs good, fat bad. Low fat good, cholesterol bad.

And low fat can mean a lot of different things: Carrots are naturally low fat. Ditto apples. So are most fruits and vegetables. (Avocados are a notable exception for another post.)

Unfortunately, most people don’t take low fat or fat free as an invitation to add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to their diet. Instead, they look to replace their high fat faves with low fat alternatives. Low fat choices can be found for everything, including yogurt, peanut butter and cheese.

In most foods, including dairy and processed foods, fat means flavor and texture. Fat free and low fat foods… other than fruit and vegetables… are almost always bland and tasteless.

How do the food manufacturers solve this dilemna? By adding sugar, salt and other fillers.

Look at these two jars of peanut butter. They have the same calories. The reduced fat has… less fat.

But the reduced fat jar also has more sodium, more carbohydrates and more sugar. This type of tweak – swapping reduced fat for increased sugar – is common across many processed foods, including healthy eating staples like salad dressing and pasta sauce.

Studies today suggest that weight gain is more likely in high carb, low fat diets. This is particularly true for diets that focus on highly processed – or refined – carbohydrates, like pasta, bagels and crackers. All of those items ARE low fat. But the rapid sugar ingestion results in an insulin response, causing an increase in fat cell storage. In other words, weight gain.

Am I saying to not have carbs? No. Fruit has carbs. Whole grains have carbs. Even vegetables have carbs. In each of these examples, however, the added vitamins, fiber and nutrients blunt the body’s release of insulin and provide additional benefits for your body. The result is far different than when you consume sugar, simple carbohydrates (think white bread and pasta) and alcohol.

So, what should you do? Check your labels carefully before choosing a low fat alternative. Are there added sugars and starches and fillers? If carbohydrates increase in the low fat version, think twice. It may be doing you more harm than good.