Lifestyle

Does Low Fat Food Make you Fat?

nuts almonds walnuts cashews and pecans

Yes and no. If  eaten in large quantities fat makes you fat, if healthy fats are consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet – no. To give a guestimate with figures I would say it’s 82% true that low fat man made processed foods make people fat, that makes it 18% false.

There is a new study out by the National Obesity Forum that has come to the conclusion that low fat products are making people fat. A very brief summary of the report is that people should eat more fat, cut out carbs and ignore calories. Public health England disagree with this and is contrary to the advice they have been giving for many years to eat a low fat high carbohydrate diet.

Fat is an easy word to demonise, when most people think of fat they think of someone overweight with an unflattering body. Fat also per gram has the most amount of calories and too many calories whether it’s from fat or other food groups will lead to excess fat. Therefore the conclusion that fat makes people fat has been made. This is very convenient, but isn’t that simple. Fat per se doesn’t make people fat if eaten in moderation. Any other food group can make people fat if eaten in large enough quantities.

nuts in bowl

Should We Be Eating foods labelled as ‘low fat’?  

The low fat foods trend started in the 80s and manufacturers churned out many products with a headline grabbing amount of low fat. Surely a low fat product is good? The short answer is no when it comes to man made low fat products. don’t be fooled by foods with a low fat label on them as the fat will have been replaced by something that could be worse.

Without fat many products just wouldn’t taste that nice, so it has to be replaced by something. The fat replacement is usually sugar or artificial sweeteners. Both of these are unhealthy. The sugar is a very refined carbohydrate that enters the bloodstream quickly (high gi). For most people sugar is addictive as it releases a huge amount of dopamine – the happiness brain chemical that makes us feel good. This “happy feeling” sugar gives also causes most people to overeat as it blocks out the feeling of fullness from digestive hormones. The artificial sweeteners used to replace fat are also an issue as they have been created in a lab and are a very recent addition to the human diet.  So the long term affects are not fully understood. Some of the potential issues is that you are consuming something sweet with no calories so the body is confused and not satisfied. This could lead to overeating and weight gain. Also artificial sugars are super sweet, this means regular users pallet changes to like incredibly sweet foods that are not found naturally. They could then start to find natural healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables less appealing and shun them in favor of intensely sweet foods with artificial sweeteners.

Of course foods that are naturally low fat are healthy, most fruit is low fat. But here I’m talking about the highly processed foods that have had fat taken away and replaced with something worse.

plant based oils

Not All Fats are Created Equal

Plant fats that are natural and unprocessed, like in seeds, are a world apart from hydrogenated GMO soy oil that is loaded with trans fats. Consuming fat in moderation is important as fats are necessary for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D , E, K and is needed for brain function. This is why cutting out fat entirely is a disastrous idea.

I recommend eating a diet that includes natural unprocessed plant fats in moderation. Such as fats from raw seeds and nuts, avocado, coconut and olives. You should consume them mostly in their natural whole form rather than in oils. This is because oils can go rancid and it’s easy to consume a large amount of fat from oils. As plant oils have no protein it is not obvious when they are rancid. Cold pressed unrefined oils do have their place but I only use them in moderation. I also try to avoid cooking with oils as this destroys many of their health giving properties. It’s better to drizzle on oil after cooking. If you do need to cook with an oil choose one with a high smoke point such as macadamia nut oil or light olive oil.

Butter has over many decades been shunned in favor of margarines. Margarine is not a natural product and is a mixture of refined oils, flavorings, colourants and stabilisers. They used to contain a large amount of carcinogenic trans fats from using hydrogenated vegetable oil. However most have now been reformulated without the trans fats, but they are still not a natural product. Butter is preferable over these margarines. As I follow a vegan diet I tend to use coconut oil for the few times I want a butter like natural product. I recognise that natural good quality animal fat products are healthy in small amounts.

The weight watchers  points system makes a doughnut (basically deep fried refined carbohydrates loaded with sugar) look healthier than an avocado which is very misleading. This is why you can’t simply count the calories instead of looking at the nutritional content in a food to decide how much to eat.

Salad with olives and avocado

Dr Eloise’s Diet Tips With Fat

  • Eat a significant amount of unprocessed foods with good quality natural fats in moderation at every meal to make you feel full. This includes seeds, nuts, avocado and olives.
  • Avoid any fats that have been played around with, especially hydrogenated fats that should never be eaten. Only have small amounts of cold pressed oils.
  • Avoid cooked fats and  fried foods. Instead of cooking with oil try baking foods like sweet potato wedges without oil and drizzle on afterwards for a fulfilling meal with healthy fats.
  • Limit food that combines high levels of fats and sugars. This combination is not found in nature and makes it easy to over eat. We have plenty of dessert recipes on Nest and Glow that have good fats and good sugars, but they should still only be eaten occasionally as its easy to over eat.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates such as flour (in bread, pasta, cakes etc), sugar and white potatoes. It’s easy to over eat on these, they are low in nutrients and they cause a spike in blood sugar as they have a high glycaemic index. Instead have sweet potatoes and breads / pastas made with whole seeds such as buckwheat and quinoa which have slow release carbohydrates (low gi) which keeps you full for longer.
  • Chew your food well. With many foods such as seeds and nuts they need to be chewed well to avoid lots of the goodness passing through you. I recommend to chew a mouthful of nuts for at least 10-15 times.
  • You can’t have a bad diet and exercise it off. A bridge is only as strong as its weakest link as the saying goes. You can’t have excellent health purely by exercising, diet needs to be on form too.
  • Eat only a small amount of good quality animal fat, if any. A small amount of animal fat can do you some good, I follow a plant based diet however animal fats such as cheese and cream are good for you in small amounts if not mixed with refined carbohydrates.

About the author

Eloise

I'm a former GP that left medicine to become a nutritionist and yoga teacher. I enjoy helping clients change their life through diet and exercise. I'm interested in the prevention of illness using natural methods.

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