For people who need to lose weight, adopting reduced fat or low fat diets may seem like a logical approach.
It stands to reason that eating less fat would lead to less fat stored by the body, and the abundance of low-fat and fat-free foods on the supermarket shelves seem to support this theory.
However, focusing mainly on the fat content in your diet may not be the best approach if your goal is to shed pounds.
Eating Fat Won’t Make You Gain Weight
The idea that less fat in the diet leads to less weight loss is a myth. According to Harvard School of Public Health, clinical trials have shown that people who follow a low fat diet don’t lose any more weight than people following a moderate-fat or a high-fat diet.
In fact, some types of fat are healthy and should actually be included in your daily diet.
Why Low Fat Diets Won’t Make You Lose Weight
When it comes to weight loss, calories are what counts. If you’re solely focusing on the fat content of your food, but ignoring calories, then you are ignoring an important component of weight loss. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you take in.
If you’re choosing foods that are low in fat but high in calories, you could still gain weight on a low fat diet.
Are Low-Fat Foods Healthy?
Be careful when you’re tempted to reach for foods labeled “fat free” or “low-fat.” Most low-fat processed foods have chemicals, salt, and other ingredients added to them to make up for the flavor that is lost. In many cases, these foods are loaded with sugar in order to enhance the flavor.
And sugar, not fat, is what makes you gain weight. Even foods that use artificial sweeteners have been shown to lead to weight gain. You’re often better off choosing full-fat versions of foods rather than low-fat versions that have had extra sugar or other ingredients added.
Low-fat salad dressings, for example, are often higher in salt and sugar than their regular versions. Always read labels to look for added sugars and to check calorie content.
How Does the Body Use Fat?
The body needs a certain amount of fat in order to function properly. Fat is a source of energy for the heart, liver, and resting muscles. Fat also helps your body absorb certain types of vitamins, such as vitamins A and D, which are necessary for healthy vision and strong bones.
What Are Healthy Fats?
The healthiest fats are the fats known as unsaturated fats. These are found in fish, nuts, olive oil, avocados, and flaxseeds. The fats you may want to restrict are saturated fats — which are found in meat and dairy products — and trans fats, or hydrogenated fats. Avoid foods made with hydrogenated oils, such as margarine.
What is Better for Weight Loss Than Low Fat Diets?
If you want to lose weight, focus on reducing calories and refined carbohydrates instead of fat. Every meal you eat should contain protein, plant nutrients, and a form of healthy fat. Focus your diet on fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid processed foods as much as possible.
Avoid soda, even diet soda, which contributes to weight gain. Also avoid junk food, fried food, and all forms of sugar, including refined carbohydrates such as bread, pastries, and pasta.
Harvard School of Public Health: Ask the Expert: Healthy Fats
MedlinePlus: Dietary Fats Explained