Let me just start by saying this: fat does not make you fat! No one macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, fat) is going to make you fat. It’s over-consuming of any of these macronutrients that leads to weight gain. The 90s set the beginning of the low-fat trend, and what is ironic is, that since the start of that movement, the obesity epidemic has just gotten worse!
Not only does fat not make us fat, but it is also absolutely essential in our diets. We need fat to protect our organs, to give us energy for cells to grow and to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been shown to help reduce bad cholesterol levels, which helps protect against heart disease and stroke.
The total amount of fat that you consume is not as important as the type of fats you consume. There are four major types of fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (the better fats), saturated and trans fats (the bad fats).
Not all fat-free and low-fat foods are better for us. For example, many fat-free foods have added salts and sugars to make up for the taste of the reduced of fat. In fact, one UK study showed that 40 percent of low-fat foods contain more sugar than the standard products. This study also showed that many of these low-fat foods also contain the same or more calories than their higher fat counterparts. Need more reasons to stay away from low-fat foods? A study done by Cornell found that we serve ourselves 25 percent more when foods are labeled low-fat compared to foods without that label. With all of that research, it’s no wonder that the obesity epidemic increased with the invention of fat-free foods.
With all of that being said, low-fat is not always a bad choice. It is dependent on the sugar, calories and types of fat in the food. From the following list, which is the healthier choice?
Reduced-fat vs natural peanut butter
Most full fat peanut butters have zero to one gram of sugar, whereas most reduced fat peanut butters have four to five grams. And the kicker is that they typically have the exact same amount of calories. Peanuts are also a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, so this isn’t one of the fats we need to worry about reducing in our diets. The better choice here is definitely the natural peanut butter.
Fat-free vs full-fat salad dressing
Often, what you save on fat in a light dressing is more than made up for with added salt and sugar. The other caveat of using a fat-free dressing on your salad is that the fat in your dressing can help your body to absorb the fat soluble vitamins in your salad. The absolute best choice would be to make your own dressing, using something like olive oil and vinegar with herbs and spices, to prevent any added sugars, sodium, or preservatives.
75/25 vs 93/7 ground beef
The better choice here would be the lean 93/7 beef. Beef is a source of saturated fat, so by purchasing the leaner beef you are lowing the amount of saturated fat you consume. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can help to lower “bad” cholesterol levels.
Avocado vs cheese
Avocado is a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Cheese is high in artery-clogging saturated fats. Although the calories in the two are similar, avocado is definitely the healthier choice here. So instead of reaching for cheese on your sandwich, next time reach for avocado.
Low-fat muffin vs full-fat muffin
Much like some of the other items on this list, cutting the fat in most baked goods means adding extra sugar. For example, a popular muffin brand’s low-fat blueberry muffin has 41 grams of sugar versus the 31 grams in the full-fat version. That’s over two teaspoons more sugar for the low-fat option. And once again, the muffins have the same amount of calories.
Stick butter vs stick margarine
Butter is high in saturated fats while margarine is high in trans fats. While neither are great for heart health, the lesser of two evils here is the saturated fat. Trans fat, like saturated fat, increases “bad” blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fat lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol levels. So the better choice of these two would be the stick butter.
American Heart Association: http://bit.ly/28ZXuF9.
The Telegraph: http://bit.ly/28ZXLrR.
Can “Low-Fat” Nutrition Labels Lead to Obesity?: http://bit.ly/28ZYnNY.
Lauren Ott, RD is a registered dietitian at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Check out her website www.thedessertdietitian.com or follow her Facebook page and Instagram for nutrition tips.