Nutrition Articles

6 Risks of Eating a Low-Fat Diet

How Low Can You Go? The Big Fat Truth about Low-Fat Diets


3. Increased Cancer Risk
Colon, breast, and prostate cancers have all been correlated with low intakes of essential fatty acids. Research has shown that a high intake of omega-3s slows prostate tumor and cancer cell growth, too. If your diet lacks healthy fats, you could be increasing your risk of cancer.

4. High Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Low-fat diets also play a role in cholesterol levels and heart disease. When your diet is too low in fat, your body's level of HDL (the "good" cholesterol) goes down. This is problematic because you want your HDL level to be high to help protect against heart disease. HDL collects "bad" cholesterol from the blood and transports it to the liver for excretion. When those ratios are out of balance—and when your LDL ("bad" cholesterol) level gets too high, you face cholesterol problems and an increased risk of heart disease. Essential fatty acids, especially Omega-3s, can elevate HDL, improve cholesterol levels and protect the heart.

5. Imbalance of Nutrients—Especially Carbs
If you're not eating enough fat, then you're likely getting too much of other things, namely carbs and/or protein. This affects the overall balance of your diet, which could lead to health problems. A carbohydrate-rich diet can inflate appetite and girth and increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. On the flip side, a high-protein diet taxes the kidneys and liver and can lead to osteoporosis. Both cases can result in nutrient deficiencies. The key is to balance all three macronutrients—fat, carbs and protein—to ensure optimal nutrition and disease prevention (more on that below).

6. Overeating
If you're always choosing low-fat or fat-free foods at the grocery store, you could be shortchanging your weight-loss efforts. Many of these processed foods contain added sugars to enhance taste; often they're similar in calories to the original full-fat product. Research has shown that people tend to believe these foods are "freebies" and will even overeat them, thinking they're healthy or low in calories when they're anything but. Plus, fat helps carry flavor in our foods. It leads to fullness and satiety, which means you can get by longer on a meal or snack that provides fat without feeling the need to eat again soon. When that fat is missing, your appetite may get the best of you.

Considering the health risks of not eating enough fat, it is definitely important to include enough in your diet daily. However, not all fats are created equal. Foods such as avocados, canola and olive oil, almonds, tuna, salmon and flaxseed are all excellent sources of healthy fats. High-fat meats and dairy products, trans fats (hydrogenated oils), and saturated fats should be limited. To learn more about the best and worst fats for your diet, refer to the following SparkPeople articles:
Fats that Fight Cholesterol
The Mega Benefits of Omega-3s
Reference Guide for Fats
Translating Those Trans Fats
Just as eating too few calories can hurt your weight-loss efforts, a diet too low in fat can hurt your health, too. Enjoy a moderate amount of fat daily with the peace of mind that you are protecting your heart, brain and your body with every bite.

Selected Sources
Maes, Michael, et al. 26 April 1996. Fatty acid composition in major depression: decreased ω3 fractions in cholesteryl esters and increased C20:4ω6/C20:5ω3 ratio in cholesteryl esters and phospholipids . Journal of Affective Disorders. 38 (1): 35-46.

Fat 101. The American Heart Association. Fat. The American Heart Association (accessed September 15, 2009).

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople nutrition experts, Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian, and Tanya Jolliffe, healthy eating expert.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • The whole 'why are we so fat in America?' problem really probably started nearly a century ago, and has been building slowly ever since. During Prohibition, people started consuming things like chocolate and soda in greater amounts (even as early as 1922 there were observations about increases in sugar consumption compared to pre-WWI numbers). Once we let that genie out, we never really put it back in the sweet, delicious bottle, and now we just sort of accept our current consumption levels as the norm. (The average American today consumes 100 pounds of sugar more per year than our ancestors a century ago!)
    No real guilt trip to that, I just think it's interesting how things from a century ago are still affecting us now. - 1/2/2016 4:30:11 AM
  • Fat enhances satiety. We are more satisfied when we have fat in our diet.

    One thing noted in the article is that when fat is taken out, sugar is added to enhance taste. Maybe in some cases. In man cases, sweeteners and "bulking" ingredients are added to replace the fat. If the recipe takes something out, something has to replace it, basically. - 1/1/2016 7:49:04 PM
  • Consuming healthy fats has played a big huge role in lowering my bad cholesterol and triglycerides! Fat free options are typically sodium or sugar bombs...they have to add flavor somehow! - 1/1/2016 7:30:05 AM
    Intelligent article. I am going to share that one. - 6/12/2015 9:45:02 AM
    People love to hear good news about their bad habits. Animal fats, in any concentration, are inflammatory and not good for the body. Read any book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, or Dr. John McDougall....but first search out their qualifications, which are humbling. The reason the American Guidelines were so much higher than what is actually healthful is because it was thought the American people would never eat that low a fat percentage....and they were right! - 1/3/2015 11:59:01 AM
  • Glad to see that Sparkpeople is starting to move away from the low fat recommendations, which have been proven to be not correct.

    Our bodies need fats to survive, including saturated fats, just like our ancestors did.

    It is all the fake food, especially the super high carb empty calorie fake food that spikes our insulin levels that causes serious issues including obesity, heart disease, etc.

    We need a balanced diet that includes real food, including real fats, not all those manufactured food that big business wants to sell us.

    Recommended reading is "The Big Fat Surprise" by Nina Teicholz.
    - 1/2/2015 11:27:47 AM
    The low fat book in the 90's about reversing heart disease advocated 10% of calories from fat, that's significantly lower than SP's 30%. Often the lowfat craze has been blamed for our current obesity problem, but I really question how much the average American diet changed. I use lowfat and reduced fat products and my fat intake usually runs about 40-50% of my calories. Things are not always as they seem. - 9/6/2014 7:40:04 PM
  • This article is entirely wrong. You do not need to ingest extra fat. All plants have fat in them. Read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. Read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Read any of Dr. John McDougall's books on the benefits of eating a whole foods, plant based with no animal products and no added oil.

    I have been eating this way for a year and I have never felt better, enjoyed my food more, or lost and kept off weight more easily. - 4/4/2014 7:23:38 PM
  • Hmmmm......the "low-fat" recommendation of the 1990's was that we reduce our fat consumption from 45% of our daily calories to 30% of our calories from fat. 45% was considered "normal" then and 30% was "low-fat".

    So, when we talk about the low-fat craze of the 90's, we are really talking about a recommendation to lower our consumption to 30% of calories from fat, which is considered "moderate" now!

    Part of the problem in the 1990's is that people started eating "low-fat" food that still had plenty of calories, much of them from sweeteners. I remember the Snackwell phase - my husband and I both noted at the time, though, that they may have been low-fat but they were still high calorie.

    People were believing that they could eat as many calories as they wanted and not gain weight as long as they ate a low-fat diet that did not consider calories and the type of food they were eating. Ridiculous! How could people believe that consuming lots of chocolate syrup would *not* add to their waistlines? Sure it has 0 fat, but it has 100 calories per 2 TBSP serving!

    Eating whole, unprocessed food is ideal. When we eat processed food, we need to read the nutrition labels intelligently (serving size, order & type of ingredients, etc). Look for articles online that can teach this because, in general, the manufacturers will do what it takes to sell as much of their product as possible and can sometimes be a bit sneaky in the way they present their products. (There is so much psychology involved in selling products. I read an interesting article that said green used to be a taboo color in food packaging because it implied mold. Snackwells was one of the first food products to be packaged in a green box, and the industry discovered that consumers perceived the product as natural & healthy. Because of that, many more products now are packaged in green!)



    esource/nutr... - 1/6/2014 7:19:00 PM
  • I agree with most of this article. It does bother me some the # of people who are still convinced they must eat low fat/no fat all of the time. In the article, it suggests if you're trying to lose weight, you should still watch your fat content. However fat in foods does not equal fat on the body. I finally switched to eating whole foods, which includes full fat butter, whole milk, full-fat cheese and many other no-nos for a low fat diet. And guess what? I lost more weight, more quickly! And how? It's because I was feeling full much more quickly than with the low fat substitutes, which meant smaller portions. And the other thing that showed me that eating fats is healthy, all my blood work came back with better numbers than when I was eating the supposed healthy stuff. It's sugar that causes all these problems. Most of the processed low fat/no fat foods contain high amounts of sugar, way more than we should ever consume. Sugar causes weight gain, sugar feeds cancer cells and causese many more medical issues either as a direct result of eating sugar, or from being overweight from eating too much sugar. I'm happy for this article, but I still see plenty more articles and recipes on SP stating to limit your fat intake and eat the low fat/no fat varieties of foods. Hard to see those things and then see this article and know what one to follow. - 1/6/2014 12:37:09 PM
  • Sparkpeople's guidelines are low-fat and high-carb though too, compared to other low carb diets like paleo and ketogenic. I don't worry too much if I go over my fat guideline as long as my calories are in line because I believe healthy fats are good for you. - 1/6/2014 12:12:05 PM
  • I found very interesting. Especially the link to depression. - 1/6/2014 10:26:33 AM
  • I appreciate the nutrient ranges in the SP tracker. It's so easy for me to consume fat. It's everywhere! Keeping all nutrients within appropriate range has been my goal. - 1/6/2014 7:46:46 AM
  • Good information. Thanks for sharing. - 1/6/2014 5:13:37 AM
  • I love reading the articles. They give good info. - 9/23/2013 5:37:59 PM

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