• Allison Fahrenbach

The Hidden Dangers of Low Fat & Fat Free Foods

At some point, in your efforts to eat or drink more healthfully, you've likely found yourself being drawn to reach for foods labeled “fat-free,” “sugar-free,” or “only 4g net carbs.”

How many times have you opted for the "diet soda"?

Or the sugar free cookie?

The low fat mayo?

The fat free cheese?

What if I told you that your fat free Yoplait had as much sugar as a can of soda? Or that your reduced fat Oreos had as many calories as regular Oreos?


There are several ways in which low fat, or fat free foods can be labeled and they all have different meanings:

  • "Fat-free"foods must have less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving.

  • "Low-fat" foods must have 3 grams of fat or less per serving.

  • "Reduced-fat"foods must have at least 25% less fat than regular versions of those foods.

  • "Light"foods must have either 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat.

These types of foods contain fat or sugar replacers, which are ingredients that allow these items to be lower in fat and sugars while still giving them the taste, texture or mouth feel of their full fat/sugar counterparts.

However, these replacers (which I'll go through in a moment) are manmade, non-naturally occurring, chemically concocted and often are far more detrimental to your health then simply eating the real thing.


While it is true that excess fat can stress the liver, contribute to weight gain and cause health problems, what is being overlooked in making the sweeping generalization that "fat is bad" is that 1) fat is an essential macronutrient and 2) the TYPE of fat, and the source of the fat is what really matters when it comes to fat consumption. Eating fat isn't necessarily bad. Eating the wrong TYPES of fat however is. Some fats are health promoting, others are not.

Among the healthiest fats are the well researched Omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, unrefined flax seed oil, walnut oil, and fats from fresh dark cold water fish like wild salmon or mackerel.

Not all saturated fats are bad either, as was once thought. According to Sally Fallon, author of "Nourishing Traditions," high-quality saturated fats enhance the immune system, protect the liver from alcohol ingestion, have anti-microbial properties, and play a major role in bone modeling by protecting the calcium depositing mechanism in bones from free radical disruption.

Fresh organic butter from healthy grass fed cows, grassfed beef, as well as pastured eggs from free range hens are also great natural sources of good fats. (Notice I'm referencing how GRASSFED and FREE RANGE which are crucial points when it comes to sourcing fat.)

Saturated fat found in grassfed free range beef is not the same as saturated fat found in conventional beef. There are three main types of saturated fat found in red meat: stearic acid, palmitic acid, and myristic acid. Grass-fed beef consistently contains a higher proportion of stearic acid, which even the mainstream scientific community acknowledges does not raise blood cholesterol levels. This higher proportion of stearic acid means that grass-fed beef also contains lower proportions of palmitic and myristic acid, which are more likely to raise bad cholesterol. Grassfed beef also contains more CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid). CLA exhibits potent antioxidant activity, and research indicates that CLA might be protective against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Beef is one of the best dietary sources of CLA, and grass-fed beef contains an average of 2-3 times more CLA than grain-fed beef)

The fats that should be AVOIDED are bleached and deodorized oils, hydrogenated fats such as margarine or shortening, and any trans fatty acid as these can all double the rate of heart attack and raise the LDL, or bad cholesterol.

So if some fat is good, why are fat free products still so popular?

And what is it about them that is so damaging?

FAT REPLACERS, the ingredients that food companies replace fat with, are actually inflammatory and have more unhealthy side effects then they're worth.


The ideal fat replacer recreates all the attributes of fat, while also significantly reducing fat and calorie content. The challenge for food processors is that they have to identify the fat replacer(s) that works best for a given product which usually winds up requiring several ingredients.

A “systems approach” is often uses in which a variety of synergistic components are used to achieve the functional and sensory characteristics of the full-fat product.

These combinations may include proteins, starches, dextrins, maltodextrins, fiber, emulsifiers, binders, thickeners, artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, modified food starches or fibers and flavoring agents.

In general, the fat replacers developed to date fall into one of three categories:

  • carb-based

  • protein-based

  • fat-based

Many of the low-fat products introduced in recent years contain carbohydrate-based fat replacers (e.g., cellulose, maltodextrins, gums, starches, fiber and polydextrose).

Protein-based fat replacers are most commonly found in frozen and refrigerated products.

Scientists have even been able to chemically alter fatty acids to provide fewer or no calories, making fat-based fat replacers possible, like olestra, which is so foreign to the body that it passes through unabsorbed, causing horrible GI distress and diarrhea.

Many of the fat replacers used within fat free or low fat products are inflammatory, contributing to endocrine disruption and predisposing the body to favor weight gain and fat storage.

They negatively impact the balance in your gut microbiome, favoring the proliferation of bad bacteria and/or hindering the growth of good bacteria. This causes digestive distress (constipation, gas, bloating, loose stools) as well impacting your mood, energy, and has been linked to anxiety and depression, and are contributory factors to food cravings and persistent hunger.

In fact many of the fat replacers (particularly the carb based ones such as maltodextrin) cause blood sugar and insulin spikes which ironically are huge contributory factors to WEIGHT GAIN. Not weight loss.

While yes, some fats are definitely unhealthy, as a general rule, a small amount of the right type of fat is a far superior choice for your health then loading up on fat free, low fat and reduced fat. Low-fat foods may seem healthy, but they're often loaded with sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. These can lead to excessive hunger, weight gain and disease. For optimal health, it's best to consume unprocessed, whole foods. This includes foods that are naturally low in fat, as well as foods that naturally contain healthy fats.

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