Is Low-Fat Actually Healthy?

As you walk up and down the grocery aisles, you will notice that many products are marketed as “low fat,” “fat free,” “reduced fat” or “skinny.” But does this mean that these products are actually healthy?

The twisted truth is low-fat products are often unhealthy because they are LOADED with sugar.

Some natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are naturally low in fat and full of nutrients and health benefits. However, many processed low-fat foods lose their nutritional value when the natural fat is removed from the product. The process of decreasing fat content usually results in a less tasty product, so companies will add sugar, fructose, salt and other unhealthy ingredients to compensate for the lost tastiness. Yikes!

Here are four low-fat products that are the worst offenders when it comes to added sugar:

CEREAL

This may surprise you because many low-fat cereals are marketed as a healthy breakfast choice to start your day. It may seem healthy, but do not be fooled — these cereals are full of sugar. This includes “healthy” cereal like Raisin Bran, which has 18 grams of sugar, and Special K cereal bars, which have 14 grams of sugar in each one!

EAT THIS INSTEAD: If you want to make a healthy choice for breakfast, stay away from sugary cereals and breakfast bars. Instead, make oatmeal and add fresh or frozen berries, a banana, natural peanut butter, or a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg.

SALAD DRESSING

Salad — the ultimate healthy food. Raw veggies have many nutritious benefits, but many of us add salad dressing to enhance the flavor. Low-fat and fat-free salad dressings contain large amounts of sugar and preservatives. There is a lot of sugar in popular salad dressings like fat-free ranch dressing that contains 3 grams of sugar in just 2 tablespoons!

EAT THIS INSTEAD: Swap out your cream-based salad dressings for oil-based ones. It is even better if you make your own salad dressings. Try different combinations of healthy salad oils, like olive oil, avocado oil or walnut oil, with vinegars, like balsamic or white wine vinegar, with some lemon and spices.

YOGURT

Yogurt is widely praised as a healthy food that can improve your digestive health and manage your weight. Research supports that PLAIN yogurt is a healthy choice. However, the nutritional benefits of yogurt are lost when you’re eating a low-fat yogurt that is sweetened with sugar. A single serving of strawberry-flavored low-fat yogurt has 26 grams of sugar in it. Yikes!

EAT THIS INSTEAD: Rather than choosing low-fat yogurt, opt for plain Greek yogurt. If you want to add flavor, then stir in fresh or frozen fruit, a spoonful of honey or some chopped nuts.

PEANUT BUTTER

Peanut butter is delicious on sandwiches, with an apple or banana, or even by the spoonful! Research has shown that natural peanut butter is high in fat, but it is a healthy fat called monounsaturated fat. This type of fat has many health benefits, including managing your body weight and promoting heart health. The health benefits are only for natural peanut butter, which contains only peanuts and salt as its ingredients. Reduced-fat peanut butter adds sugar and high-fructose corn syrup to the ingredients, which are unhealthy.

EAT THIS INSTEAD: Always opt for natural nut butters that do not have long lists of ingredients. Simple is best. Natural peanut butter, almond butter and cashew butters are all delicious and nutritious options for sandwiches, dips and spreads.

Health myth busted! Low fat does not mean more healthy. Instead, low-fat products are often less healthy and nutritious.

The low-fat label is confusing and misleading. You may think that you are making a healthy choice, but low-fat products are less nutritious and more sugary than you expect. As a result, low-fat processed products are not healthy choices. Always check the sugar and trans-fat content on the nutrition label.

When you read the ingredients, avoid products that list sugar, fructose or high-fructose corn syrup as the first few ingredients. That means that sugar makes up a large portion of the product. As a general rule, it is more healthy to stick with natural, whole foods that have healthy fats and offer many positive benefits to your body. 

Katie Cornford works in Kern County Public Health’s Waste Hunger Not Food program. She received her B.A. in political science from UCLA in 2016 and her M.A. in political science from UCLA in 2018. She is working toward her teaching credential from CSUB.

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