Does “low fat” mean “healthy”?

With heart disease sweeping the nation and the push for lifestyle change to prevent and manage chronic disease, food companies are working hard to  label foods as: “heart healthy”, “low-fat”,  etc. But, do those words really mean “healthy”?

When fat is taken out, the food product changes. To make this less noticeable, food companies try to replace characteristics that are lost when fat is removed.  Fat adds flavor, “mouth-feel”/texture, and color/”browning”. Fat is, basically, the reason we love eating some of out favorite foods!

Most companies have turned to added sugar as a “stand in”. Sugar also adds flavor and color, and is a low-cost replacement for fat. So instead of Calories from fat, we get the Calories from added sugar. Take a look:

2 tablespoons of regular peanut butter has: 190 Calories, 16 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 8 g carbohydrates (3 g sugar)

2 tablespoons of reduced-fat peanut butter has: 190 Calories [HINT: THIS IS THE SAME AS REGULAR], 12 g fat (2 g saturated fat) [HINT: THIS IS NOT MUCH DIFFERENT THAN REGULAR], 15 g carbohydrates (4 g sugar) [HINT: THIS IS A LOT MORE THAN REGULAR]

The ingredient list of regular peanut butter is: peanuts and sugar; but, the ingredient list for reduced fat peanut butter is: peanuts, corn syrup solids [HINT: THIS IS SUGAR], and sugar.

There may be less fat in reduced-fat peanut butter, but the Calories are the same because they replaced fat Calories with sugar Calories; which, research shows, doesn’t have much (if any) benefit. Fat is stored in the body when we eat extra Calories. There is no discrimination between fat or sugar. If we eat too many Calories, we store fat!

Next time you go to the grocery store, compare the labels of regular vs low-fat versions of the same foods. You may be surprised to see that there isn’t a big difference when you look at the numbers. Just because something says “heart healthy” or “low-fat” doesn’t mean that we can eat more of it.

Now, you may be asking yourself: if the “low-fat” foods aren’t all they are cracked up to be, then what the heck can we eat?!  When nutrition labels are overwhelming and confusing, consider sticking to the foods that don’t have nutrition labels (take a second to think about that…).

That’s right, fresh foods (fruits, vegetables) don’t have nutrition labels. Choosing natural, fresh foods is the best way to protect your heart and body. And then, when we do have a craving, we can satisfy it! Rather than choosing the chemically processed “low-fat”, “healthy” desserts, make your own! Cookies and cakes can be natural too. Good old-fashioned flours and butter is comforting in small amounts every once in a while, and I don’t know about you, but for me, the “low-fat” versions are never the same!


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