Poll: Do You Eat 'Fat-Free' Foods or Avoid Them?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

I was minding my own business the other day, checking out some of my favorite health and fitness blogs when I stumbled upon a link to a blog post called "Where's the Fat?" by Mark Sisson. I was immediately intrigued.

"I’ve always been puzzled over the idea of fat free versions of fat and cream-based foods," Sisson blogged. "Fat-free mayo, fat-free whipped cream (er, just what the h-ll are they whipping?), fat-free cheese – how are they wrought? What manner of culinary wizardry can make a delicious, creamy version of ranch dressing without all that artery-clogging fat?"

From there, he shares photos and ingredient lists of fat-free ranch dressing, mayo, American slices, nondairy creamer and more, along with some thought-provoking and colorful commentary that is worth reading in-full when you have the time.

As I processed what I was reading (pun intended), I knew that I wanted to share it with our dailySpark readers to get their take on it.

It led me to wonder: Do you eat fat-free versions of foods that normally contain fat?

I'm not talking about foods that are normally low in fat or fat-free, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy stuff. I'm referring to the dressings, chips, desserts, crackers, cookies, and otherwise packaged foods from the store that have both an "original" version and a reduced or fat-free version.

I can totally understand why anyone would gravitate toward these foods, especially if you're watching your weight. Why eat fat if you don't have to? Why not have your fat-free cookies and eat them, too? I admit that I used to rely on reduced fat and fat-free foods quite a bit. (Didn't we all, especially during the "fat-free" food craze of the 90s?) I think that using reduced fat foods is probably one of the first steps in the right direction of eating healthier. They allow you to substitute fat-free or low-fat versions of your favorite foods without feeling deprived or without overhauling your diet overnight. They definitely have a place and a purpose for many people.

But I think that after a while, dieters and healthy eaters alike tend to evolve in their eating habits. Fat-free works well in the beginning, and maybe continues to be a staple for a few things you eat, but often, the more you learn about good nutrition, the better choices you want to make—and that usually means away from processed foods like these.

Personally, I do not buy reduced fat or fat-free products myself, although I don't buy many packaged or processed foods in general. Full-fat ice cream, salad dressings, cheeses, milk, peanut butter, mayonnaise—you name it, I eat the "good stuff" at home and it is full of whatever amount of fat that it naturally contains. I guess that I don't fear fat, and I'm willing to make healthy choices in other areas (by eating lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, for example) so that my diet remains balanced and within recommended levels for nutrients like fat. Will I eat fat-free Cool Whip if I'm at a party? Sure. Will I grab a couple of reduced fat crackers from the office kitchen when I want a quick snack? Bring it on! As I always say, moderation—in food, exercise, life and yes, fat—is key.

You can read Mark Sisson's full blog entry at Mark's Daily Apple.

How about you: Do you eat fat-free or reduced-fat products regularly, sometimes or not at all? Have you ever? Why or why not? (And, if you read Mark Sisson's full blog entry, what did you think of it?)

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  • 368
    Depends, I may get fat free mayo if I use it enough to help keep calories from smaller things like condiments in check, but eat something like fish or avocado to get fat in my diet another way. Not to mention not all fats are equal, and I'd rather skip the fat in something high in saturated fats, and make it up in something with non-saturated fats. - 5/12/2014   4:57:46 PM
  • 367
    I mix. Foods that I go low fat on are mayo and some cheese. Milk - is almond milk low fat? I buy both, low fat and regular fat yogurt and ice cream depending on the flavor that I want.... the same goes for my salad dressing. Ground beef and other meats... I like a little fat for flavor, but not too fatty.

    Things I look at... A lot of fat-free substitutes are totally unpalatable! Labels - Some low-fat items have more calories, so which meets my goals for my meal? Last but not least, how I use it... since I eat a lot of salads, I don't mind a little fat in my dressings...it makes my vegetarian meals a little healthier. - 5/12/2014   7:27:58 AM
  • 366
    I eat naturally fat free food but my dairy and such is full fat and I don't see reason to change. - 1/17/2014   11:47:46 PM
  • ATHENA160
    I avoid them. For one thing, our bodies need some fat. When I shop, it is for my whole family, not just me. My kids are still growing. They need fat in their diet. Most of our diet is fruits & veggies (seriously, we regularly buy 40-50 lbs of produce a week), so the few higher fat foods aren't a problem. Then, there's the taste. I would rather not eat a food than eat a fat-free version. Fat is where most of the flavor comes from in meat. You need some fat when it cooks to get the flavor & make it more tender. If the cut is too lean, it is often flavorless & tough. Skim milk is watery & disgusting. Fat-free sour cream is lacking flavor. As for cheese, I mostly only eat really good cheeses. I buy the expensive ones, and just don't overdo it when eating them. Fat-free cheese is disgusting. It doesn't melt right, it isn't satisfying, and it doesn't taste right. I love cheese far too much to eat fat-free cheese. Then there's the fact that fat-free foods are higher in other unhealthy stuff. They often have more calories than full fat versions. They have more additives, more sodium, more sugar. Plus, they are never as satisfying as the full fat version. I prefer to just eat smaller amounts of higher fat foods, instead of eating fat-free versions I don't even like. - 8/21/2013   12:00:58 PM
    I avoid them, with the exception of dairy and meat. My feeling is that grabbing a fat free version of a treat is not helping me deal with the real issue at hand. The idea is to get your body craving good things and not the treats. Plus, I'm the type that can't just stop at one, so it's better that I don't start in the first place. In addition, those low fat versions of foods are often not as satisfying as the real thing, so I end up eating the filler and then searching for the real thing.

    I HATE artificial sweetener - the taste, the concept, the chemicals. All of it is nasty. - 8/20/2013   9:47:37 PM
    I avoid them, with the exception of dairy and meat. My feeling is that grabbing a fat free version of a treat is not helping me deal with the real issue at hand. The idea is to get your body craving good things and not the treats. Plus, I'm the type that can't just stop at one, so it's better that I don't start in the first place. In addition, those low fat versions of foods are often not as satisfying as the real thing, so I end up eating the filler and then searching for the real thing.

    I HATE artificial sweetener - the taste, the concept, the chemicals. All of it is nasty. - 8/20/2013   9:47:36 PM
  • 362
    Love Mark Sisson btw. Grok on!

    Fat Free & Low Fat often means they have to add more of something else - usually sugar. Give me fat over something more processed with more sugar any day. - 4/26/2013   4:28:59 PM
  • 361
    I eat lean meat such as chicken, turkey as they are lower in fat. BUT I eat a lot of smoked mackerel and trout and salmon fillets. I would rather have some butter not too often than these fat free junk food that they dare say reduce cholesterol!! I like my milk normal but do not drink as much. I like my dairy products such as yogurts but I take 0% fat ones as I eat a lot of them. I am on Dukan Diet which supposedly reduces fat intake to its minimal, and I respect it bar the milk I add in my tea (I am from the UK you see [smile]). My salad dressing: 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp of French Dijon mustard (I am also French [smile]), 1 tbsp of water, crushed garlic, some fresh thyme, pepper. It is great on my fresh raw greens (vinegar tenderizes the greens and makes them easier to digest (or so I believe, and if it is not true, it does me no harm!). I do not eat too fatty meats such as pork and eat the vegetables from our garden which I freeze after blanching in Summer. - 3/12/2013   6:39:35 AM
  • 360
    AVOID! I've never eaten fat free and will never. The amount of chemicals they have to put in to make up the taste of the lost fat is appalling anyway. Trading one set of problems for another is not the answer. - 8/30/2012   7:04:43 AM
  • 359
    Like a lot of people, I eat some low-fat dairy products--skim milk, low or no fat yogurt, low fat cream cheese--but I do not eat nonfat processed foods. I don't eat many processed foods to begin with, because they tend to be too sweet or to salty, and I find that taking the fat out seems to make them either sweeter or saltier. I personally would rather have an occasional treat of a real, decadent dessert than fake chemical-filled food on a regular basis. - 5/30/2012   8:12:29 AM
  • 358
    I generally avoid fat-free foods, except when I'm visiting mom who does fat free everything. [grumble]

    - 5/27/2012   1:37:43 AM
  • 357
    I do use some reduced fat foods, particularly cheese. I love the 2% Kraft singles, which are lower in fat then the regular, but I love how thin and melty the 2% slices are. I still stick with the Sargento reduced fat cheddar sticks. I can't tell the difference between them and full fat, and I eat them regularly, so there's no use in changing since that is a staple item. I enjoy other Sargento reduced fat shredded cheeses as well. Since cheese is a weak spot, we use a lot of it. I still practice moderation, but frequently. Mayo I don't like in any form, and dressings I prefer Italian or a Vinagrette, full fat is fine, I use very little anyway. Sour cream isn't a big deal now since I rarely eat it, full fat is fine and tastier. I've stopped using margarine and have gone back to butter. I use it rarely, but it does have better flavor. I like 1% milk, and love my Chobani Champions-yogurt, which are low in fat, but smooth and delicious. I chose those for the small portion and mixed berry flavor, low in sugar too, and great texture. I tried reduced fat potato chips, and they aren't worth wasting calories on. I do draw the line at ice cream now, it's my favorite. I've tried low sugar, low fat ice cream, and it just doesn't do anything for me. On the rare occasion we bring it home, it is a good, creamy brand, full fat, and with whatever else we want in it, like cookies. I find it much more satisfying and stick with one scoop. I'm not a fanatic, but use it when it makes sense. We have to have fat to burn fat. - 5/26/2012   8:21:53 AM
  • 356
    I read labels. If it makes sense to go low fat or fat free then I do. - 4/5/2012   5:05:57 PM
  • 355
    I prefer the low fat yougurts over the fat free. I use a small amount of butter rather margarine. Many fat free products seem to have more added salt. - 4/4/2012   10:57:18 PM
  • 354
    I dont usually eat fat free products because I dont like the taste. Milk, I insist 2%. Dressings, I may settle for reduced fat. Cheese, I dont eat it often so when I do I go for regular. However, I do like Weight Watchers baked goods which are low in fat. - 3/11/2012   9:49:32 PM
  • 353
    I don't do fat free - it usually tastes like cardboard or gruel (depending on the product), and is so not worth the money spent. I do buy some low-fat dairy products, though - Chobani makes some yummy, creamy fat free yogurt, and I like reduced fat cheeses when I'm making comfort foods like lasagna or nachos. They still have good flavor, but I'm getting less of the harmful saturated fats.
    I remember a time in the 90s when our cupboards were stocked with Snackwells cookies and other fat free products - my mom had a brief stint where she was charmed by the fat free craze. I would eat nearly a whole box of the Snackwells Devil Food cookies, which sort of defeats the purpose... Now I (and my mom and dad) mostly focus on eating whole, "clean" foods, and I'm definitely healthier! - 2/13/2012   11:44:11 AM
    Low fat is generally pretty edible, but I avoid fat-free foods primarily because the taste and texture is too far off from what the real thing is like. And in the place of a few grams of fat is loads of chemicals and synthetics. - 7/27/2011   12:22:41 PM
  • 351
    The only fat-free food I use is skim milk. I never acquired a taste for fat-free processed foods. Anything that has artificial sweetener in it leaves a weird chemical aftertaste. - 7/27/2011   10:57:47 AM
  • 350
    I eat the real thing mostly, low fat/fat free stuff tastes gross most of the time, especially sour cream, it's gritty and nasty. Also I read that a lot of "diet" foods have added ingredients that cause hunger. I like natural low cal foods like veggies instead. - 5/9/2011   9:54:08 PM
  • 349
    I avoid them because they taste nasty compared to the "real thing" and if you're not really enjoying the taste of what you eat, then why put it in your mouth in the first place? I use oil sparingly when cooking (e.g. frying) and I do use skim milk in my coffee and tea because hot milkfat tastes "off" to me. But when it comes to ice cream, pastries, condiments, cheese, forget it. As others have said, I get far more enjoyment out of savoring a small taste of the "real" stuff than chowing down a full portion of an imitation. - 5/7/2011   10:41:08 AM
  • 348
    Fat serves many functions in food, particularly in baking: it gives flavor, richness, and tenderness. Take it out, and what do you have? Flavorless, dry, and TOUGH. How to remedy that? Add sugar, chemicals, sugar, more artificial ingredients, more sugar, .... No, thanks. I'll take the full fat, real stuff. I've also noticed that full fat dairy (in moderation) is hugely helpful in reducing joint pain. But I strongly feel that adults should use dairy as a condiment, not guzzle glass after glass of milk, and should stick to fermented/cultured products, such as cheese and yogurt. (But of course, the occasional bowl of ice cream is de rigueur!) - 5/7/2011   9:19:53 AM
  • 347
    I dring non-fat milk and also "I can't believe it's not butter". Lo fat cottage cheese is also on my lists of favorites. I have tried lo-fat ice cream but prefer the taste of regular ice cream....especially the soft serve. Moderation is the key. - 5/6/2011   9:56:01 AM
  • 346
    Congratulations to all the healthy eaters out there that are fat-free free! I'm working on purging the pantry and fridge of the processed foods, but still love my low fat/fat-free dairy products. - 5/6/2011   8:57:38 AM
  • 345
    I discovered something interesting several years ago, when using a fat-free version of Eagle Brand condensed milk for some cookies - I happened to have several cans of both the original and the "fat-free" version, and got to looking at the nutritional information. Imagine my surprise, shock and dismay to discover that the "fat free" version actually contained MORE calories than did the regular Eagle Brand condensed milk. I was really stunned, and of course the regular tastes a whole lot better. But when they took out the milkfat, they added gobs more sugar and other sweeteners to make it taste/feel as "rich". I said, "FORGET THAT!!" and went back to regular Eagle Brand!!! (admittedly - I rarely use it for anything - other than making a dish for family occasions where others not dieting still like the stuff made with it - but these days, after years of using Stevia and not using HFCS, the Eagle Brand and similar products taste "too sweet" for me!). - 11/27/2010   12:47:27 AM
  • 344
    Fat free tastes disgusting mostly, too processed, plus I do not feel as satisfied.
    I go through phases with low fat milk in my coffee but mostly it is full cream ahead at my home! - 11/25/2010   2:54:56 PM
  • 343
    I don't eat fat-free or reduced fat items because most of the time they contain other ingredients which are worse than the "fat". I do moderate the intake of those items with fat and eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. - 10/14/2010   9:51:23 AM
  • 342
    When I first started working toward my healthy lifestyle, I was eating a lot of fat free condiments so I wouldn't have to change my routine so much. I switched to fat free for mayo, cream cheese, butter and yogurt and still ate gummy candies and other things with sugar but not fat.

    After a while though, I saw that it was screwing with my counts, as I would quickly reach my calorie and carb limits for the day, but not have nearly enough protein or fat. I ended up compromising with light versions of everything (except mayo, that's still fat free) and making sure to get my nutrients in too. - 10/12/2010   8:03:26 AM
    I do not eat fat free foods on a regular basis - they often add more sugar/salt to make it test better. I'd rather eat a little of the real deal - definitely a more natural product! I do drink skim or 1% milk, but that's about it. - 10/12/2010   2:34:27 AM
  • 340
    If I stick to my healthy eating plan. I only have to count calories and eat high fiber. Theres not much fat to worry about in healthy foods. So I don't buy fat free. - 10/12/2010   1:04:48 AM
    I'll eat fat free or low fat dairy almost anything, and watch my fat intake on other foods. Not so much for weight loss but because I've had my gall bladder removed some years ago and if I eat a lot of fat I'm paying for it with indigestion and other unpleasant results. - 10/11/2010   9:45:15 AM
  • 338
    Thank heavens for fat free and reduced fat foods, finally got the weight off and helps to keep it off, which is the "real" lowest common denominator. - 10/10/2010   8:58:12 PM
  • LTMD55
    I do buy low fat foods, and I use fat free skim milk. - 10/10/2010   5:02:35 PM
    I eat a few fat free or low fat items, mostly dairy. Skim milk, part skim ricotta cheese, sometimes reduced fat ice cream (but not usually), reduced fat cream cheese (although does this really count, seeing as it's really neufchâtel cheese?), and lowfat sour cream. That's all I can really think of. - 10/10/2010   3:57:16 PM
    I tried most of the fat free dairy at one time or another--decided I just didn't like the taste. I even switched to real butter instead of margarine (with all it's strange ingredients). I'm a label reader from way back!! I like to eat food in a more natural state--rather than being processed to death and then fake nutrients put back in. - 10/9/2010   11:21:20 AM
  • 334
    I like skim milk, fat free cottage cheese, fat free sour cream and fat free salad dressings - not because they are fat free, but because I prefer the taste and textures to their full fat counterparts. When it comes to regular cheese, I prefer it has it to be made from 2% milk rather than skim because the taste and texture is better, but still lighter than full fat. Ditto with ice cream. Honestly, I prefer frozen yogurt and about half fat than regular.

    I don't like the fat free diet packaged foods so much. They taste very chemically to me. If I'm going to eat a cookie, it's going to be in the normal form. Good thing I don't eat cookies often ... (hide the Spanish wedding cookies please ... and the GS Thin Mints :P ).

    Honestly, the whole packaging craze of "fat free" was little more than a gimmick to get people to buy more of those items. Calories are calories and 500 calories of a fat free cookie is still just as unhealthy as 500 calories of regular cookies with all the fat in them.

    God Bless,
    mik - 10/8/2010   7:55:35 PM
  • 333
    I, and my family, eat a small variety of low-fat or fat-free foods; low-fat mayo, skim milk, and 1% cottage cheese come to mind. Mostly, we eat these lower fat products because they are the products we consume a lot of, so I figure every little bit helps. The milk thing is mostly because my kids fill up so much faster on whole milk than skim; by drinking skim, they get their milk intake and still have room for healthy meals.
    Things like cookies, chips, salad dressings, etc I buy in full-fat, simply because my family eats very healthy and the odd time these products are consumed in our household, I figure a little bit of fat isn't going to hurt at the end of the day. Plus, the half fat versions usually cost more.
    Overall, when shopping, I pay more attention to calories and health benefits (ie: good fats) than anything else; if the good outweighs the bad on any given product, and I think my family will enjoy it, I buy it. - 10/8/2010   4:26:28 PM
  • 332
    When I first did weight watchers a few years back, I ate so much low fat, no-fat versions of my favorite foods. The past year or so, my husband and I have changed the foods we buy. If we can recognize all of the ingredients, its usually a-go for us. I find all the chemicals that are put into these low-no fat versions bothersome. As a vegetarian family, we are faced with lots of meat alternative products and we survived on them for a while. Then we took a look at what we were eating and vowed to eat a cleaner, more whole diet. We go with full fat PB, butter (that is whipped!), Ice cream (that is also whipped), etc and practice portion control. Its hard but I would rather have it this way. - 10/8/2010   4:21:34 PM
  • 331
    I eat baked chips and fat free yogurt but I would rather eat cellophane than fat free cheese. - 10/8/2010   12:45:35 PM
    i used to LIVE on fat free or very low fat foods but now i pretty much eat good fats and stay away from bad fats. we need some fat in our diet and incorporating things like nuts, avos and olive oil has helped me feel satisfied and not like i'm "dieting". - 10/8/2010   12:28:28 PM
    I don't even look at them anymore!
    Because they taste nasty, and, besides, why eat something bland when you can eat the real stuff? - 9/13/2010   7:39:51 AM
    No. I don't buy them. Every time I pick up something fat-free and read the ingredients, I see a whole bunch of other stuff that I'd rather not eat - sugar, starches etc.

    So give me the full-fat version in reduced quantities. - 9/6/2010   11:45:59 AM
    I drink non-fat milk & eat low fat-fat free yogurt. I've always eaten low fat or fat free yogurt since I was a kid, I actually prefer it to the original. But I have recently noticed that my margarine isn't any better for me than just straight up butter, as long as I use it sparingly. - 9/4/2010   8:30:59 AM
  • 326
    After having a gall bladder attack, eating fat free and low fat was mandatory. I lost a lot of weight as I was paranoid of how much fat I could have. But fifteen years later, I've learned what to eat and not eat. Pretzels are fat free! Though the sodium is way up there. Lots of hint of salt Saltines and spray butter. And thank goodness for candy corn! A fat free food. Not a healthy food, but hey, a happy food. - 8/28/2010   3:16:40 AM
  • 325
    My dairy products tend to be fat-free or reduced fat (skim milk, fat free yogurt, low fat/low sodium cottage cheese). For other things like mayo, salad dressings, etc. I either avoid them (I use mustard instead of mayo) or use them sparingly (salad dressings) - 8/24/2010   7:17:36 PM
  • 324
    I do not buy the fat-free or low fat for the most part - - - butter, not margerine; whole milk, not even 2%, olive oil and cheddar cheese (that is my downfall - I do love cheese - so am learning to "ration" how much I eat!!).
    Have started cooking more from scratch - so I can control the ingredients, esp, the sodium. I tend to retain fluid - - 8/21/2010   9:48:45 AM
  • 323
    I battle with this sometimes... but for the most part.. I drink 1% milk, and other than that, I use real butter and mayo but use it sparingly. - 8/20/2010   10:26:09 AM
  • 322
    I never eat fat-free nor reduced-fat products, preferring real, natural and wholesome foods instead. I use butter, mayonnaise and olive oil in moderation and suffer no guilt because of it - LOL! Fat-free products are generally loaded with sugar, which I do not consume, and in my opinion, that's worse than fats. I would rather enjoy a half cup of a great ice cream, than a larger serving of an imitation... - 8/3/2010   12:01:42 AM
  • 321
    Other than 1% milk I never eat fat-free or low fat food. I would rather have a taste of real ice cream than a pint of fat free ice cream like stuff. When I have tried fat free yogurt I never felt satisfied after eating a container, but I can eat half a cup of whole milk yogurt and feel full and satisfied. I think that fat is a) necessary and b) signals your brain that you have eaten enough. - 7/30/2010   11:31:07 AM
  • 320
    No, I don't buy fat free foods as I don't buy foods with additives. I sometimes do buy fat-free refried beans as they just omit the added oil. Ingredients are usually beans, water and salt. I am trying to stick to whole natural foods. - 7/30/2010   10:35:08 AM
  • 319
    I combine fat-free, low fat, and fully leaded products but don't eat a lot of fat. Examples: Yoplait low fat yogurts are rich and delicious, fat-free cottage cheese is fine, but if I'm using butter or mayo, it's Land-O-Lakes and Hellmans. My last 2 or 3 cartons of sour cream ruined, and I don't buy prepared dips. Kraft Free dressings are good, just learn to drizzle instead of pour. - 7/30/2010   9:43:30 AM

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