Believe it or not, fat-free foods may cause more problems than they are supposed to solve. Grocery stores are full of “fat-free” products these days — everything from cookies to bread, from juices to half-and-half for your coffee. But if your aim is to create a low-fat diet to keep cholesterol levels down, “fat free” isn’t necessarily the magic trick.
What’s In A “Fat Free” Label?
The problem is not one of definition. Foods labeled “fat-free” really do have to be fat free. According to the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), foods advertised as “fat free” must have less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.
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“Low-fat” foods, meanwhile, must have 3 grams of fat or less per serving. “Reduced-fat” foods have to have at least 25% less fat than their traditional counterparts. And “light” foods must have either 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat.
The problem is that sometimes “fat free” is also, well, taste free. And to make up for that lack of taste, food manufacturers tend to pour other ingredients — especially sugar, flour, thickeners and salt — into the products. That may boost the calorie content. Plus, if the foods aren’t that appealing, they may lead to overeating to make up for the lack of satisfaction.
Not Low Fat, But Good Fat
So if “fat free” isn’t the ticket to a low-fat diet, what is? Recent studies have shown that the main health culprit may not be the amount of total fat in your diet. A study found that women who ate low-fat diets and those who didn’t had nearly identical rates of heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular disease. Other studies have found no link between high-fat diets and other diseases, including cancer, and weight gain. Instead, it’s the type of fats you eat that seems to matter most.
Today, nutritionists speak in terms of ‘good fat’ and ‘bad fat. Keeping the amount of fat in your diet down to about 30% is still important, but what’s most important is that you’re eating the right kind of heart-healthy fats.