Is it bad to consume "fat free" foods or is it a healthier choice?

I don’t necessarily think any food is “bad” for you (unless it is gluten and you have celiac disease or if you are extremely allergic to a particular food). Most foods can fit healthfully into our diet as long as they are consumed in moderation. However, I generally am not a huge fan of foods that are labeled “low fat” or “fat free”. Some manufacturers actually do remove the fat from their products and replace the fat with sugar. Take one popular brand of cracker for example. If you look at the label, the low fat version is only 20 calories less per serving than the regular version. And they actually contain more carbohydrates! But, to the shopper trying to watch her waistline, a product that says “Reduced Fat” would likely catch her eye and I bet she would consider that product a “healthier” purchase over the regular version. Many manufacturing companies market their products to consumers that are trying to eat healthier and watch their weight. Unfortunately, many people don’t take time to review the food label and compare total calories per serving. They think that since the product is “reduced fat” then it is good for them and they give themselves permission to eat as much of the product as they want, leading to excess calorie consumption.

In my opinion, there are a few foods that are better in the reduced fat or “lean” version. I used to consume a lot of fat free salad dressing thinking I was doing myself a favor. I now know that I used more of the fat free than I would have if I used the regular version. So now I love “real” vinaigrette dressing. However, I urge my patients to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diet, I urge them to buy meat that is “lean” (lower in fat). I don’t eat a lot of meat, but when I do get ground meat, I choose “Extra Lean” ground turkey so that there will be a reduction of calories and saturated fat. And, while I don’t drink regular milk, if a patient asks me what type of milk to buy, I generally recommend that they skip the whole milk option and choose the 1% option. Since milk contains a lot of vitamin D, and vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, you will need a little fat to help your body absorb the vitamins. So, in general I am a bigger fan of the “reduced fat” vs. “fat free” choice when it comes to dairy products.

Because many reduced fat foods have added sugars, I would recommend limiting their consumption. Keep in mind, I would naturally recommend that we limit all processed foods whether they are regular fat or reduced fat. This would include things like: cookies, ice cream, granola bars, pudding etc. Other products that I would encourage patients to buy the regular version include: peanut butter, yogurt, and salad dressing. Finally, overall remember that calories add up at the end of the day so be sure to check the food label, monitor portion sizes, and reduce foods with added sugar, fat, and salt.

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