FUN Q&A: Should I Choose Low-Fat or Fat-Free Food Products?

This question was sent to Fuel Up Nutrition recently and I am glad to provide some insight on the subject.

A LOW-FAT diet craze began in the 1990s. It was believed that choosing “low-fat” food options would result in weight loss and better health. Food companies took advantage of this new food fad and began creating many low-fat or fat-free options for their consumers. Little did consumers know that some of these products would be loaded with sugar and other additives to compensate for the reduction in fat.

The LOW-FAT food craze caused a great deal of confusion and today the confusion continues with new “Food Fads” developing each day. I am often asked if I promote a low-fat diet, or a high protein diet, or even a high-fat, low-carb diet. My answer is always . . . BALANCE. I know this answer may seem cliché or boring, but I choose this answer because balance remains the most effective option long-term. Unless there are specific health issues of concern a balanced approach to eating is best!

Although fat has received a bad reputation in the past it is still a key macronutrient in our diet. Fats provide our body with a feeling of fullness, keeps our skin and hair healthy, provides insulation, and helps with the absorption of vitamin’s ADE&K.  Fats, however, are not created equally and should be consumed in smaller amounts as they are energy dense.

There are 4 types of fats:

  1. Monounsaturated fatMonounsaturated fatyogurt-1786329_1920
  2. Polyunsaturated fat
  3. Saturated fat
  4. Trans fat

Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (unsaturated fat) are considered the HEALTHY fats in our diet, while saturated fat and trans fat are the UNHEALTHY fats in our diet. Saturated fat and trans fats can increase LDL (BAD) cholesterol levels in our body which can lead to cardiovascular (heart) disease and other chronic conditions. Limiting these unhealthy fats is important.

Where are these HEALTHY and UNHEALTHY fats found, you ask? GREAT QUESTION!

Healthy fats (monounsaturated & polyunsaturated):

  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout)oil-159855_1280
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Avocado
  • Soft non-hydrogenated margarine

Unhealthy fats (Saturated & trans):

  • Animal products
    • Fatty cuts of meat (pork & beef) and chicken with skin
    • High-fat dairy products including milk, cheese, and yogurt
    • Butter
    • Sour cream
  • Hard Margarine
  • Lard and shortening
  • Processed baked goods
  • Gravy/sauces

How much fat should we consume & should we choose low-fat products?

  • Fat should contribute to 25-35% of our energy needs
  • We should consume healthy fats in small amounts each day (2-3 Tbsp.). Instead of replacing the saturated fat you currently consume with high carbohydrate food (high sugar food), replace these saturated fats with unsaturated fats listed above).
  • Choose lower-fat animal products to minimize saturated fat consumption
    • 0% plain yogurt
    • lean cuts of meat
    • Skim-1% milknuts-1213036_1920-1
    • White cheeses or cheese with <20% milk fat
  • Aim for no more that 7-10% of saturated fat intake

In conclusion, it is important to be an informed consumer.
Try these 5 steps below to improve your fat intake!

  1. Consume natural, wholesome foods often.
  2. Choose lower-fat animal products. Examples include: skim milk, lean cuts of meat (trim visible fat), 0% fat yogurt
  3. To avoid consuming a product that has been stripped of fat, but filled with sugar choose processed foods less often. An example of this would be to choose 0% fat plain yogurt vs 0% fat flavoured yogurt.
  4. Consume fatty fish 2x weekly to boost omega-3 fatty acid intake (healthy polyunsaturated fat)
  5. Go meatless 2 x weekly

Do you have a nutrition question you are dying to have answered! Send Fuel Up Nutrition an e-mail at We will choose a commonly asked question each week and provide you with an answer!!


Karly Meincke, BASc, RD
Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist
Fuel Up Nutrition

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