Nutrition 101: How a Fat-Free Diet is Keeping You from Getting the Most from Your Food


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Dietitians and health professionals have known for a long time that a certain amount of healthy fats are necessary in the diet. We regularly hear in the media about The Mega Benefits of Omega-3's. I have blogged previously about including Omega 9’s in your diet.

At the same time we hear about the importance of healthy fats, many people are told to limit fat intake as part of their plan for Eating for a Healthy Heart. So if you are selecting healthy fats, how much is enough and why?

Lipids, the general term for fats and oils, are very valuable and necessary in your diet. Here are a few of the key reasons:

  • Lipids supply the body with essential fatty acids.
  • Lipids carry and transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Lipids help the body use protein and carbohydrates more efficiently.

It is easy to read these key reasons but harder to understand and apply them. The basic take away is that beta carotene, vitamin D and vitamin E are among the nutrients that require fat for efficient absorption and use by the human body.

In 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that reinforced the importance of dietary fat for proper absorption of nutrients from fruits and vegetables. In that study, people who consumed salads with fat-free salad dressing absorbed less of the important phytonutrients (organic components of plants) and vitamins from spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots than those who consumed their salads with a fat containing salad dressing.

Including healthy fat from your favorite foods makes it easy to meet your daily recommended fat intake. It is ideal to get between 20-30% of your calories from fat. Since recommended calorie ranges are based on your height, weight, age and fitness goals, daily fat recommendations will be different for each person. It doesn't take much. Five to 10 raw nuts or one-fourth of an avocado on your salad provides enough healthy fat to ensure transport and absorption of nutrients from your meal.

Making sure you are getting some fat at each meal and snack will help ensure you are completely benefiting from the other nutritious foods you are selecting. At the same time it is important to be sure you are not getting too much fat at one meal or snack. Balance is the key. Rest assured that if you don’t have fat at a meal it doesn’t mean you won’t absorb nutrients, but it does mean you may not absorb or metabolize nutrients as completely.

So go ahead and add low-fat vanilla yogurt to your blueberries at breakfast or dip your baby carrots and broccoli in light ranch dressing for lunch. Be careful with how many fat-free salad dressings you use--reach for low-fat vinaigrettes instead. Nuts can provide a great topping for most anything, and more and more nut butters are popping up as well so don't be afraid to give them a try.

With a little creativity and planning, we can maximize our nutrient absorption and fully enjoy the experience in a healthy way!

Share your favorite food and healthy fat combinations below so others can benefit from your creativity.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   In the News: Functional Foods or "Franken-Foods"?


    I think most fat-free food items taste disgusting (sour creme, ranch, pretty much all salad dressings). Fat-free yogurts are way too sweet (for my taste). So I usually buy low fat. Except for milk - I don't like milk in general, but I use fat free milk for milkshakes and such. - 12/4/2009   11:02:29 AM
    Very eye opening. When "dieting" I always choose non-fat milk, non-fat yogurt, non-fat dressing, etc. When I actually hit my fat target on SP (rarely), it's because I've sneaked a food I probably shouldn't have. I will switch this when I go to the grocery store again. I've gotten so used to non-fat that low fat will probably seem luxurious! - 11/10/2009   12:02:04 PM
  • 46
    I was always taught there are healthy fats, and then not so healthy fats. A lot of the fat-free items for sale have a higher dose of sodium and sugar to make them taste better. I can handle the light fat foods - just not the fat free items of food. - 11/9/2009   3:55:39 PM
  • 45
    sounds complicated... - 9/18/2009   2:32:01 AM
  • 44
    Oh, goody! 'Cuz I think veggies flavor is enhanced considerably with a drizzle of olive, peanut, or sesame oil. - 8/5/2009   11:56:36 PM
    Wonderful to see a blog here on the (IMO) misperception that dietary fat is a bad thing. Good information also on the seldom discussed omega 9.

    Fat for me is absolutely key to my weight maintenance and well being, although the calories eaten need to be carefully noted so as not to go overboard. - 8/1/2009   8:45:24 AM
  • 42
    I love the FF taste of most food. I actually prefer it now. - 1/14/2009   10:35:14 AM
  • 41
    I actually like the flavor of my FF salad dressings, yogurts, mozz and cheddar cheese.....but those are the only FF products I use. Nuts, "Naturally More" low fat peanut butter with flax oil, salmon.....I'm finding the fat balancing act to be a challenge but I'm getting there. - 10/27/2008   8:44:21 AM
  • 40
    I use fat free dressing and have tryed some cheese some things don't taste to bad and others have no taste guess it is what you like. Just have to watch the labels. - 10/7/2008   3:33:51 AM
  • 39
    Great article. There is always the debate in my head as I decide to lower my calorie intake which makes it mostly low fat. Some of the non fat things I just can't take - and usually end up going with the lower in fat options. But I have in the past few years used only olive oil as much as possible, canola oil for higher temps cooking or baking (which is rare). Adding almonds which I love and avocado guacamole dip (without sour cream, just straight veggies in it) makes me feel like I am doing something right. The key is moderation and accounting for the high calories with the fats. I have learned a lot and it is working... Thanks - 9/26/2008   1:12:57 PM
    I quess you learn something new everyday. Veggies and fruits are the way to go! - 9/26/2008   1:09:05 PM
  • 37
    I guess you learn something new every day! I have been an on-again, off-again sparker for a while and have always had a problem eating enough fat. I never knew that could be why I "shed" so much. I shall find myself some nuts right now! - 9/25/2008   3:36:49 PM
  • 36
    I have learned that veggies do help to lose the weight. Eating them a fruits are the best thing that I did for my diet. - 9/25/2008   11:08:10 AM
    Sparkpeople recommends 30% daily intake of calories as fat for a reason. I have been on Sparkpeople 5 months and lost weight- I don't have margerine or any low fat items in my house. It's full fat and butter for me! Moderation is the key. - 9/24/2008   2:28:09 PM
  • 34
    To CarolJ35 - I hope the young man in your family is eating a heathier diet now. I'm not a doctor, but his diet seems very severe. I hope he is well. - 9/24/2008   11:28:24 AM
  • 33
    One of my biggest problems is that I'm always too low on my fat intake. And I started losing my hair a few months ago. It would come out by the handfulls. Once I went on vacation for two weeks and consumed way too much fat, then my hair quit falling out. And I had read someone's post one time about not enough fat could cause hair loss. So now I'm trying to make sure that I do get some fat into my diet.

    Thanks for this article!! - 9/24/2008   9:08:40 AM
  • STITCH0208
    Well, like before i chose all the fat free food...but after i read this article, i believe i will try that way. - 9/23/2008   11:15:37 PM
  • 31
    A young man in our family decided to lose weight and went on such a fat-free diet he wouldn't even eat salmon. He lost lots of weight and also lost the hair on his legs, arms, etc. I then realized how important fat is in one's daily diet. - 9/23/2008   8:11:08 PM
  • 30
    I actually function better both in WT loss and feeling better with a low fat diet, but I still eat nuts, avocodos and good fats. I find I lose more weight consistently this way and know its better for my health. - 9/23/2008   4:59:38 PM
    Calcium is another nutrient that needs to be accompanied by some fat to be absorbed properly into the body. This is very important for people who are getting somewhat older and are losing bone density!!! - 9/23/2008   11:55:53 AM
    I am also NOT a fan of fat-free dressings and buy the low-fat versions. Restaurants seem to have either fat-free or full-fat. Sometimes, I will mix them. - 9/23/2008   11:54:40 AM
  • 27
    I actually like salads and veg even without butter or oil so I often use a tsp of oil on meat to hold in the juices and make it stick less in the pan. I assume eating that with the veg will still give you the benefits of oil with your veg. LOL hoping anyway.

    I agree with the poster who said the oil is the flavor component of food. it carries a lot of the flavors and makes them explode in the mouth. - 9/23/2008   11:50:37 AM
  • 26
    Great article today. I am a big believer in eating healthy fat. People get so wrapped up in NON-FAT everything. Often though, I find the Low fat options of foods are much less processed and usually have less sugars and carbs. A favorite of mine is low fat cottage cheese or a spoonful of peanut butter with my daily apple. - 9/23/2008   11:12:02 AM
  • 25
    I cannot eat those fat free dairy foods. American cheese maybe (since it's entirely symthetic anyway) but real cheese needs the fat to be yummy, same with mayo! I just try to watch my portions with both. i try to limit my sat fat intact by getting fats from nuts (mostly almonds and walnuts), olive oil and the occasional avaocado. - 9/23/2008   11:06:37 AM
  • 24
    As Paul McKenna says in "I CAN MAKE YOU THIN" it is about STOPPING the moment you think you are full. - 9/23/2008   9:50:23 AM
  • 23
    Ick! I hate fat-free dairy and most fat-free dressings! I usually have no problem staying within my Spark guidelines for fat, because I eat a just enough of it each day. Low-fat dairy, cheese, natural peanut butter and olive oil are usually my sources. - 9/23/2008   9:05:48 AM
  • 22
    Until I added nuts to my meals, I was steadily gaining weight. For the past 3 weeks, I've lost major weight without changing much except the added nuts! :) I'm definitely a convert to the notion of healthy fats!

    - 9/23/2008   8:06:05 AM
  • 21
    I think there's a common misconception that fat is what makes you fat...fat that you eat is stored in your body and if you don't eat fat then you won't get fat. Which isn't true. Thanks for this post. - 9/23/2008   7:15:00 AM
  • 20
    EVERYTHING in moderation, and just keep moving to the gym. ciao. - 9/23/2008   6:54:27 AM
  • 19
    Great blog. I will be passing this on to my team as there is common misconception that ALL fats are 'bad' fats. - 9/23/2008   6:54:14 AM
  • 18
    Until I joined Spark people about 18 months ago I had no idea how little fat I was taking in. I quickly started adding avocado, flax, chia, almonds, olive oil to my daily diet. It is still work to get 30% of my calories from fat but my daily intake of fat and my skin and hair and the way I feel has dramatically changed!
    - 9/23/2008   5:57:48 AM
  • 17
    This was a great article and put it into perspective on what our body needs. Many people don't realize how important fats are to our body. - 9/23/2008   12:02:16 AM
  • 16
    I can never go fat free. Fat is what gives the flavor so fat free doesn't do very well with me. Thanks for the article! - 9/22/2008   11:52:19 PM
    Prevention's "Flat Belly Diet" recommends eating a teaspoon of healthy oils or food (like nuts) as snacks every day. Even if you're eating "other" oils regularly. I'm doing it because I have low "healthy fats" compared to the "bad fats" in my cholesterol reports, even though my cholesterol levels are normal. - 9/22/2008   11:18:18 PM
  • 14
    That is unbelievable about the CocoaVia especially!!and to think I was pulled into that at one point in my life.
    I am with SP_Nancy - give me some raw almonds and if I want chocolate on them I can add it myself - 9/22/2008   10:34:07 PM
  • 13
    I knew you needed fat in your diet, but I never knew that it ould effect the way your body absorbs the nutrients from the foods you are eating. - 9/22/2008   9:37:56 PM
  • 12
    Actually funny they should just put this out. I just recently picked up the Kraft Light Raspberry Vinaigrette to try it out. I didnt realize it was low fat and it wasnt fat free when I first bought it. So needless to say I was a little worried, but reading this article puts my mind at ease. It's delicious too. - 9/22/2008   9:09:53 PM
  • 11
    I generally shoot for lower-fat versions of foods. But when it comes to dressings and stuff, I go for fat free. I can't justify using full-fat vesions, as they aren't really a food "necessity".
    I get my fats from nuts, whole-grains and other healthy fats. - 9/22/2008   8:46:49 PM
  • 10
    Love this article - 9/22/2008   8:44:43 PM
    I'm not big on the fat-free versions of most food. I'd rather eater a smaller amount of the full-fat or low-fat food. To me, they are more satisfying. - 9/22/2008   8:22:24 PM
  • 8
    I love getting my fatty foods but I don't everyday. I always try to eat more nuts & I some times take flax seed oil which might taste like what cod liver oil. YUK!! - 9/22/2008   5:48:30 PM
  • 7
    Great article! - 9/22/2008   5:40:02 PM
  • 6
    Loved this article

    I like cashew butter and apples. - 9/22/2008   5:30:43 PM
  • BAUM603
    I do not like the after taste that fat-free foods leave in my mouth. - 9/22/2008   4:06:55 PM
  • 4
    I used to by the fat free version of everything, but recently read an article about the importance of fat in my diet. Now I buy the "lite" version so I get some fat but don't overload on fat and calories. I'm trying to find the middle ground and am getting closer all the time. Thanks for an informative article. - 9/22/2008   2:43:09 PM
  • 3
    I definitely like light versions of things. They taste better to me than the full-fat versions. But a lot of fat-free versions taste even worse than the full-fat! It's all about picking and choosing where you want to get your fat from and making sure you're getting enough! I know that on days when I'm really hungry, I'll notice I'm not getting a lot of fat. - 9/22/2008   2:23:31 PM
  • 2
    Wow I had no idea - great article! - 9/22/2008   2:21:40 PM
    Not to mention, fats help you to feel fuller after eating and to stay feeling that way longer. For the vain out there, it also helps your skin look and feel great. - 9/22/2008   1:48:07 PM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›