The Facts on Fat-Free Foods

When searching for healthy foods, we generally gravitate towards low-fat or fat-free options. Without giving it much extra thought, we conclude that once we see those words on a container it must be the best choice. But the fact is to make a normal fatty food low- or no- fat, it has to go through quite the process. Sometimes, this involves adding substances you wouldn’t normally like to be eating or removing things that should be included in your diet. In other cases, these fat-free foods may actually be hampering your natural biological processes.


The Flavor and Fullness Problem

Here’s a culinary fact that’s been accepted in cultures across the globe for generations: Fat is delicious. And this idea was harshly supported during the so-called low-fat diet movement of the late 20th century, when manufacturers discovered that taking out all that fat made their foods unappetizing. The flavor wasn’t the only thing that was affected, though. The foods also weren’t as filling.

Several creative solutions have found their way into the supermarkets. The most popular option is simply to load the food up with sugar and salt. Because of this, fat-free options commonly have as many, it not more, calories than their traditional counterpart.

Consider peanut butter. The reduced-fat option contains a few less grams of fat but the same amount of those calories! This is because, in many cases, those grams of fat have been replaced by an equal amount of sugar.

Similar routes are sometimes taken, using different chemicals. The food industry has cleverly invented “fat replacers,” which can be any mixture of protein, carbs and chemically altered fats. While these substances haven’t been conclusively linked to any long-term side effects, they don’t seem great in the short-term. For example, Olestra is one of the more frequently used altered fats and has been shown to cause digestive upset. This strange substance also passes through your body undigested, therefore giving you none of the vitamins usually paired with fat. Because of this, people who have a lot of Olestra in their diet could experience deficiencies in vitamins A, D and E.

Occasionally, food companies turn to a more out-of-the-box solution. A prevalent, and odd, way to make food fat-free is to added cellulose which is more commonly known as wood pulp. This mixture of finally ground saw dust and water has no flavor but is full of enough fiber to act as a thickener in the place of fats. Plus, using it allows companies to not only advertise that their products of “low-fat,” they are also now “high-fiber!”


Other Considerations

But the issue with fat-free foods is a little more complicated than counting calories. Take, for instance, your salad. In that bowl of green is a ton of vitamins, all of which are vital to your health and well-being. Many of those vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning that they need to be ingested with some form of fat to be properly absorbed but your body. Fat-free dressing doesn’t give it the vehicle it needs and could leave you with a vitamin deficiency.

There’s also the fact, as we’ve discussed in previous posts, that not all fats are bad for you. In fact, the fats in peanut butter are some of the healthy type that your body needs. So, picking the reduced-fat option means that you’re denying yourself an important nutrient.

Instead of relying of fat-free foods, remember that body is added to your body when you eat too many calories. It doesn’t matter where those calories come from. Rather than trying to be totally fat-free pick healthy fats like those found in nuts, fish and olive oil.

Do you have any tips for balancing healthy fats in your diet? Please share them in the comments.




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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.