When you’re breezing through the grocery store, grabbing anything with a “low fat” or “fat free” label seems to make sense. But is it really that simple? Are the packages that make these health claims flat out lying, or are they only telling partial truths? Well… it’s technically both. So yes, they’re really just lying.
“Fat Free” Comes at a Price
What the packages don’t advertise is what you will find on nutrition labels: extra sugar and salt. When you take the fat out of a food, you lose the flavor. So, food manufacturers add other things—mainly sugar and salt—because they know no one will continue buying flavorless food. Although you’re not ingesting pure fat when you eat “fat free” foods, you are eating calories. Those calories will eventually turn into fat if your body detects too many of them. That’s why “fat free” and “low fat” labels are both lying and telling a partial truth at the same time. Is it fat free? In one sense, yes. But is it really fat free? Not really.
Unfortunately, “fat free” and “low fat” foods have duped many people into thinking it’s okay to eat more than they would otherwise. George Kovacik at Houston Methodist writes,
“Kari Kooi, dietitian at Houston Methodist, says reduced-fat products often contain almost the same number of calories per serving as full-fat versions. Plus, reduced-fat foods have a perceived healthy image, and studies have shown that people tend to eat twice as much or more of these foods.”
And because they lack real fat, these “healthy” alternatives fail to keep consumers full. What we need is not an eradication of fat, but an understanding of what healthy fat is and how it fits into a balanced diet.
Not All Fat is Bad
Over the years, most people have come to assume that all fatty foods are bad. And although there are certainly bad fats out there, there are healthy fats, too. Web MD made an excellent point about this: “When it comes to health, the type of fat you eat can be more important than the amount of fat you eat.” So, what kinds of fat are good?
- Monounsaturated fats can lower harmful LDL cholesterol and encourage healthy cellular growth.
- Polyunsaturated fats also lower LDL cholesterol and encourage healthy cellular growth. Additionally, they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which promote brain activity, regulate blood sugar, and maintain heart health) (among other things.
These good, healthy fats will satisfy both your taste buds and your hunger. In moderation, they can greatly improve your health. We should even be seeking out omega-3 and omega-6 fats on our grocery trips, because our bodies do not produce these fats naturally. They can be found in nuts, fish, and, of course, supplemental form.
Which Fats are Bad?
Now we have come to the well-worn side of this topic: unhealthy fats. First, let’s talk about saturated fat, which has beckoned controversy and garnered loads of research. On the whole, saturated fat is questionable and best treated with caution. However, it does not require as much caution as the next type of fat we will discuss.
Saturated fats can be found in dairy products and oils, which both already have their own lists of good and bad effects. Traditionally, saturated fat has been thought to cause heart problems and type 2 diabetes. However, studies have generally been non-conclusive in these cases. In the end, it appears that saturated fat can encourage those negative effects, but that it cannot be directly linked to them. Again, the rule of thumb here is to limit saturated fats without necessarily outlawing them.
Trans fat, on the other hand, truly is one to avoid and is found primarily in beef, lamb, and oil. Trans fat can lead to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes because of its high LDL content.
There are two kinds of trans fat: natural and artificial. Although both should be avoided, natural fats are the lesser of these two evils. According to Heart.org, artificial trans fats are easier and less expensive to produce. And at the store, you’ll want to avoid foods made with “partially hydrogenated oils.”
“Fat free” and “low fat” foods come at the price of your health. They may not have literal fat, but they do contain added sugar and salt that will turn into fat later. So instead of looking for “fat free” or “low fat” labels, look for organic foods that will satisfy both your hunger and your taste buds.
Remember to seek out healthy (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats, especially omega-3 and omega-6. Here at Health Connection, Dr. Christopher Alamilla suggests avocado, almond butter, and salmon as some of your best healthy fat choices. So, go grab some avocado toast and get started!
Understanding food labels can be tricky. Contact our office if you would like more help developing healthy shopping habits.
Kovacik, G. (2020, January 23). Don’t Be Fooled by Low-Fat Foods. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2020/jan/dont-be-fooled-by-low-fat-foods/
Low-Fat Diet: Why Fat-Free Isn’t Trouble-Free. (2020, November 16). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/low-fat-diet
Trans Fats. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat