Why we need to stop buying ‘lower-fat’ foods

In the 1980s, fat came under fire, and low-fat or fat-free foods became a staple. But today, nutrition experts largely agree that dietary fat should have a spot at the table.

Many people associate the term ‘low-fat’ with health or healthy foods.

And some nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are naturally low in fat. However, processed low-fat foods often contain a lot of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.

Healthy fats, including those found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados, can help your body absorb crucial nutrients and contribute to overall health.

The craze for lower-fat products isn’t quite as intense as it was 30 years ago, but if you go to your local supermarket you’ll find the shelves packed with loudly branded versions of low-fat yoghurts, spreads and cheeses.

Read more: From smashed avo to kale chips – foods we became obsessed with

The phrase ‘lower fat’ certainly sounds appealing if you’re trying to slim down, but at what cost? We spoke to MedicSpot GP Dr Abby Hyams to get the lowdown on low fat.

It doesn’t necessarily mean something’s low in fat
Dr Hyams is concerned about how misleading branding can be. “It can be claimed that a product is ‘lower fat’, ‘reduced fat’, ‘lite’ or ‘light’ as long it has at least 30 per cent less fat than similar products,” she explains. “For example, mayonnaise typically has a high fat content and low-fat varieties of mayonnaise are likely still high in fat content.”

If the type of food in question is high in fat in the first place, the lower-fat version may also still be high in fat so it pays to double-check individual products.

They could potentially be high in calories
It might be a faff when you’re rushing through the supermarket, but it’s well worth your time to check through the ingredients list on the products you’re buying because slogans such as ‘low fat’ don’t always tell the full story.

You have to ask the question: how did that food become magically reduced in fat?

“Sometimes, low-fat products can have a similar number of calories because the fat is replaced with sugar,” Dr Hyams explains. “If you’re concerned about the amount of fat you are eating, it’s best to check the nutritional information on the label and find out exactly how much fat a product has.”

As a rule, you should be opting for whole foods wherever possible – and be wary of any ingredients you can’t pronounce or don’t recognise.

Fats aren’t the devil – in moderation
Fats are one of the three macronutrients we all need to survive, the others being carbohydrates and protein. Now, we’re not saying you should start eating fats with reckless abandon, but it’s not worth trying to cut them out completely – fat provides you with energy and is a source of fatty acids, which your body can’t make on its own.

There’s a difference between saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats tend to come from meat and dairy products, as well as some plant foods – think fatty meat, cheese, butter and coconut oil. Too much saturated fat can raise your cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Read more: Low fat or full cream milk – which is healthier?

“However, it’s important to consider that not all fats are bad and a small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet,” explains Dr Hyams. “While we should all be making an effort to reduce the amount of saturated fat in our diet, unsaturated fats can be beneficial to us. Foods that contain unsaturated fats include avocados, olive oil and some nuts.”

So, is it worth hunting down lower-fat versions of your favourite food? Not necessarily. Dr Hyams says: “For some people, replacing saturated fat with some unsaturated fat will be a better way of reducing the amount of saturated fat they consume than by simply switching to low-fat-branded products.”

Do you remember the lower-fat craze in the ’80s? Do you check ingredient labels at the supermarket?

– With PA

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YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writershttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.


  1. Fat is not the enemy, but added sugar and carbohydrates are. Monounsaturated (olive oil, avocado oil) and saturated fats (butter, full fat cheese, ghee, beef tallow, coconut oil) are better for the body than sugar and polyunsaturated fats (margarine, canola oil, sunflower and safflower oils).
    Yes, butter is better than margarine and dripping or ghee is better than seed oils.
    When you have a look at the actual evidence of the low fat craze, you find there is none.

    There is such a thing as the French paradox. Why is it the French who eat full fat butter, cheese and cream have low incidence of heart disease and diabetes? It’s because these are not the enemy we were told they were.

    If we want to lose weight and lower our risk of type 2 diabetes we should cut out sugar and white carbohydrates and use extra virgin olive oil, avocado, butter, meat and fish fat and coconut oil rather than margarine and oil the ultra processed seed and vegetable oils.

    As an example if you are eating a snack of crackers and cheese, it’s the crackers that are bad and not the cheese.

    I have made changes to my diet and lost weight. lowered my colestorol and blood sugar levels

  2. There was a time that my employer embarked on a “wellness” program for us all and various health experts came and gave talks on improving our physical health.
    One of these was a dietitian who was beating the drum of cutting fats right out of our diets.
    This ignored the fact that for the body to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K from our foods, they needed fats/oils to be present in the food mix when consumed.
    At the same time we were well and truly under the “Slip, slap, slop” and hats and coverup from the ravages of the sun, ignoring that the best source of vitamin D is from the natural process of sunshine on our bare skin leading us into a potential vitamin deficient metabolism.
    A lot of the “disasters” that are happening within our bodies seem to occur regardless of our lifestyle and hence we can but balance our dietry choices in moderation and stop “over thinking” the pessimism.

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