Diet Myth #4: Fat-Free Foods are the Best Choice

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As part of our research for "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight," we conducted a "Ditch the Diet Taste Test." We asked successful SparkPeople members, yo-yo dieters and others to answer questions about weight loss, healthy eating, and dieting--and to pit Chef Meg's healthy, delicious recipes against traditional, bland "diet food."

You can read all about the Taste Test in Chapter 2 of "The SparkPeople Cookbook," but this week we're sharing five of the diet myths we debunked as part of that project.
Cutting fat intake reduces the calorie density of a food. In other words, you get a bigger portion of food for the same calories when it has fewer fat grams. However, if you go too low in fat you won’t enjoy the flavor, texture, or satiety of your food. Plus dietary fat is essential for staying healthy.

Diet Myth #4: You should always choose fat-free versions of your favorite foods.

EAT ENOUGH fat (20 percent to 35 percent of your daily calories). This will bring the pleasure and satisfaction back to your meals so you’re less likely to overeat later. We’ve eliminated fat where you don’t need it and opted for reduced-fat and healthier sources wherever possible. Fat-free diets were a passing fad, but many people still attempt to adhere to them, we learned in our Ditch the Diet Taste Test.

As we told you on Tuesday:

If you’re opting for fat-free dressings because you think it’s better for you, think again. Small amounts of healthy fats are an important part of the satisfaction of a salad. A little fat will do, but you’ll find that a vinaigrette with a balance of rich oil and tangy vinegar is more enjoyable than vinegar alone.

Still not convinced? Your body can’t make use of certain vitamins and antioxidants (beta-carotene, vitamin D, and vitamin E in particular) without a bit of fat to help process them. In addition, fat helps transport vitamins A, D, E, and K.

In 2004, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who consumed salads with fat-free dressing absorbed fewer phytonutrients (the organic components of plants) and vitamins than those who ate the same salad of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots with a dressing containing fat.

When you remove the fat from foods that naturally contain them, you have to replace the fat with some other ingredients: often sugar or salt. Instead of choosing the fat-free version of your favorite cheese, which will lack the satisfyingly rich mouth feel of the original choose the reduced-fat version, which will retain some of that richness with less fat and fewer calories. (We do recommend choosing nonfat milk, however.)

Learn more about this diet myth in "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." Click here to get five sneak-peek recipes, too.

Do you buy into this diet myth? Why or why not? Do you choose full-fat, reduced-fat or fat-free? Why or why not?

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JANIMOEN 1/16/2021
I have a few staples I only buy in light version, all dairy. Report
MUSICNUT 12/1/2020
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Thanks! Report
Thanks Report
To make things fat-free, taking out the fat, all sorts of other things are added to make it taste ok -- salt, sugar, junk! Just eat it mindfully and balance it out with other foods. Report
Fat free is loaded with sugars and other stuff that you don't want in your body Report
Excellent advice Report
Fat free is the worse diet you can follow. Just eat natural foods and good fats. Report
Totally agree with the article Report
Thank you! Great article!!! Report
I go for the healthy fats, using the tracker as a guide. Report
I read all of the nutrition labels, use portion control and watch my sodium. I watch sodium more than the fat content. Report
I agree totally. Report
I dont like anything low fat or fat free I just eat less Report
I go for low fat, not fat free! Report
After reading Gary Taubes' "Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It" I certainly eat full fat and avoid the fake or fat-free. Report
I've found I really don't believe in "fake" foods anymore. I'd rather have a half ounce of extra sharp cheddar than 2 ounces of what to me, tastes like plastic. I have mouth issues that makes vinegar and spicy things almost intolerable to me, so I've just about given up on salads. Give me straight egg whites over egg beaters anytime. I do have skim milk in somewhat small quantities and will do fat free cottage cheese and low fat sour cream and cream cheese, but all in all, for me it's smaller quantities of the real thing. I've even almost totally eliminated Splenda, and other sweeteners, which I thought I'd never be able to do. Report
I've used skim milk for years, but I've also used fat-free cottage cheese, sour cream, etc. I've just recently switched to low fat dairy instead (except milk). I'm still a little nervous about it, but I'm sure I'll get over it soon. Report
I usually just use balsamic vinegar on my salads if I'm at home. I use oil and vinegar when I go to restaurants. Report
If you can't say it should you eat it? Report
Every nutrient, including fat, is necessary for the balanced functioning of our bodies, and "fat-free" foods are loaded with sugar. Steer clear! Eat clean, eat natural, eat often! Report
I was told that they use skim milk to fatten up calves.... Report
I have a problem getting all my daily fats in...this was a good article! Report
Yes, if more people would check the nutrition labels they would see that often on baked goods, the low fat or no fat versions often have close to the same calories, as the manufacturers often need to add starches/sugars for added flavor and texture. And...if they do have less calories, check the portion size--the manufacturer could have simply made them smaller, and a similar smaller sized portion of the "full fat" variety may have close to the same calories listed.

Ahh, the marketing tricks we need to deal with....

I also agree with the comment on no fat cheese. It's like eating rubber. Report
As a chemist, there's a bunch of stuff I refuse to eat! I don't eat manufactured sweeteners (no Aspartame, no Sucralose (Splenda), no Saccharin, no HFCS ("corn sugar"), no Acesulfame K)...or manufactured fats (no Canola).

I believe natural food is best and some of EVERYTHING is necessary to make our bodies as happy as possible. Sugar, other carbohydrates, fats...they aren't 'evil'. I think that processed foods are EVIL! :) And natural sugars & fats are perfectly fine in moderation.

I feel infinitely better since I've eliminated all of the manufactured foods from my diet. Report
I think there is something to eating "natural foods" - Hold up 2 bottles of something... salad dressing is easy and referenced in the article. Now read the list of ingredients. Notice the FatFree one is much longer and has more "scientific" names. Which one do you think YOUR body is going to like more? Report
I try and stick to healthier fats, but I'm not afraid of fat. Although, I still swap oil out for applesauce in my baked goods just because I found I actually prefer the taste and texture that way. Weird, but true! Report
So very true. The food industry has a way of developing the wierdest things. We have to be carefull. Report
Fact: You body needs fat to help digest your food.

Fact: Rapid or Large weight loss plus not eating enough fat can lead to gall stones. And the solution to gall stones is the surgical removal of your gall bladder.

Reducing the amount of fat in your diet is okay.

Eliminating fat and eating a fat-free diet is unhealthy! Report