Low-Fat Diet: What to Eat and Avoid for Better Health
A low-fat diet is a dietary plan that limits the intake of fat, especially saturated and trans fat, which are linked to various health problems. The main goal of a low-fat diet is to reduce the calories from fat and promote weight loss or maintenance. A low-fat diet may also lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
How to follow a low-fat diet
There is no universal definition of a low-fat diet, but generally, it means consuming less than 30% of your daily calories from fat. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, you should limit your fat intake to 67 grams or less. Of this amount, no more than 10% should come from saturated fat, which is about 22 grams or less.
To follow a low-fat diet, you need to choose foods that are naturally low in fat or have reduced fat content. You also need to avoid or limit foods that are high in saturated and trans fat. Here are some tips to help you follow a low-fat diet:
- Use plant-based oils instead of butter or lard for cooking and baking. For example, sauté vegetables with olive oil instead of butter. Use canola oil for hot cooking, such as searing or stir-frying.
- Add fish to your diet, especially oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for your heart and brain health. Aim for at least two servings of fish per week.
- Choose lean meat and skinless poultry. Trim visible fat from meat and remove the skin from chicken or turkey before cooking. Avoid fatty cuts of meat like bacon, ribs, sausages, and salami.
- Reduce the consumption of full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk, regular cheese, and cream. Opt for low-fat or fat-free alternatives, such as skim milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and sour cream.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, and beans. These foods are naturally low in fat and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They can help you feel full and prevent overeating. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Limit your intake of processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt, and additives. These include fried foods, chips, cookies, cakes, pastries, ice cream, candy, and chocolate. These foods are often low in nutrients and high in calories. They can contribute to weight gain and health problems.
Benefits of a low-fat diet
A low-fat diet can have several benefits for your health and well-being. Some of the benefits are:
- Weight loss or maintenance: A low-fat diet can help you lose weight or prevent weight gain by reducing your calorie intake from fat. Fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein. By eating less fat, you can create a calorie deficit that leads to weight loss. A low-fat diet can also help you control your appetite and portion sizes by increasing your intake of fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Heart health: A low-fat diet can lower your blood cholesterol levels by reducing your intake of saturated and trans fat. These fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke by clogging your arteries with plaque. A low-fat diet can also lower your blood pressure and triglycerides levels by reducing your sodium and sugar intake.
- Cancer prevention: A low-fat diet may reduce your risk of certain types of cancer by lowering your exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) found in animal fats and processed meats. A low-fat diet may also protect against cancer by increasing your intake of antioxidants (cancer-fighting substances) found in fruits and vegetables.
Risks of a low-fat diet
A low-fat diet is generally safe and beneficial for most people, but it may have some drawbacks or risks for some individuals. Some of the risks are:
- Nutrient deficiencies: A low-fat diet may cause nutrient deficiencies if you do not eat a balanced and varied diet. Fat is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and some minerals (calcium, iron, zinc). If you eat too little fat or choose poor-quality fats (such as trans fat), you may not get enough of these nutrients from your food¹². To prevent nutrient deficiencies on a low-fat diet, you should eat a variety of foods from all food groups and take a multivitamin supplement if needed.
- Unhealthy fat substitutes: A low-fat diet may lead you to consume more unhealthy fat substitutes, such as sugar, salt, starches, and additives. These substances are often added to low-fat or fat-free processed foods to improve their taste, texture, and shelf life. However, they can have negative effects on your health, such as increasing your blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. They can also increase your calorie intake and weight gain. To avoid unhealthy fat substitutes on a low-fat diet, you should limit your intake of processed foods and choose natural or minimally processed foods instead.
- Unsustainable weight loss: A low-fat diet may help you lose weight in the short term, but it may not be sustainable in the long term. This is because a low-fat diet may not suit your preferences, lifestyle, or health needs. You may find it hard to stick to a low-fat diet for a long time and may revert to your old eating habits. This can cause you to regain the weight you lost or even gain more weight than before¹². To maintain your weight loss on a low-fat diet, you should make gradual and realistic changes to your eating habits and physical activity levels. You should also monitor your weight and adjust your calorie intake accordingly.
A low-fat diet is a dietary plan that limits the intake of fat, especially saturated and trans fat. It can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight by reducing your calorie intake from fat. It can also lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer by lowering your blood cholesterol levels and increasing your intake of antioxidants. However, a low-fat diet may also cause nutrient deficiencies, unhealthy fat substitutes, and unsustainable weight loss if you do not follow it properly. Therefore, you should consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian before starting a low-fat diet and follow their advice on how to follow it safely and effectively.