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Separating Fat From Fiction: A Low-fat Diet

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Any dietary pattern that is really good needs to be balanced with lots of nutrients, sustainable, and support the entire person including all organs and glands. For example, diets that help with weight loss but at the expense of the kidneys or diets that are great for building muscle but degrade the heart are not good choices for promoting optimal health.  With optimal health and vitality for the long-term being our guide, let’s talk about the low-fat diet.

What is a low-fat diet?

By definition, a diet is considered low-fat if it’s at or below 30% of daily caloric intake.  This is not to be confused with a very low-fat diet (sometimes referred to as an ultra-low-fat diet), which is only 15% of caloric intake.  The low-fat diet is also not fat-free.  In nutritional science, these are 3 totally different terms.

It is also important to note that there are different types of low-fat diets (vegan, plant-based, or some include low-fat meat and/or dairy).  Of course, each type may have unique nuances but generally speaking, a low-fat diet is considered to be high in carbohydrates and fiber.

Is fat bad? Should it be avoided?

No macro-nutrient (fat, carbohydrate or protein) is bad!  They are all important to proper metabolic function and needed in varying amounts.  Fat is needed for the brain and nervous system, for protection and to help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).  

But like many substances (wine, coffee, nuts, etc.), too much of a good thing can become a health challenge quickly!  Balance is key.

Who can benefit from this diet?

The low-fat diet can be great for most populations, assuming it’s done with lots of whole foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  This diet can be used for weight loss but so can many other macronutrient diets2… so we want to look at the bigger picture.  

The low-fat diet has been shown to improve energy as well as cholesterol profiles.3  It also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes.4  In post-menopausal women, over a five year study, a low-fat diet (along with an increase in fruits, vegetables and whole grains) reduced rates of breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes.5  Another women’s health study showed that a low-fat diet improved overall health, physical functioning and vitality.6  A low-fat diet is also helpful for those with a congested liver or gallbladder, specifically for those who have had their gallbladder removed.7

Who should avoid this diet?

As mentioned above, the low-fat diet, done in balanced way, is good for most people.  There is some controversy about doing a low-fat diet for pregnant woman; however it is estimated that most pregnant women need between 20-35% of their calories from fat.8  The research is varied a bit on this, but as long as a woman stays near the upper range (closer to 30%), this diet is still excellent for Mom and Baby.  

Best sources of fat:

Although not the main focus of this blog, the quality of fat is just as important as the quantity.  You may have heard of “healthy fats” that are rich sources of omega 6s, 9s and especially omega 3s.  Omega 3s are especially important, as they are anti-inflammatory.  Some of my favorites include walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, avocados, flax seeds and hemp seeds.

Overcoming challenges and sticking to a low-fat diet…

  • Fat is filling … so it’s important that you increase healthy and filling sources of carbohydrates (and fiber) as you reduce fat so you aren’t hungry all the time.  Some of my favorites include all vegetables as well as starches such as: sweet potatoes, squashes, beans, rice, lentils, quinoa and oats.
  • Fat comes on/in many prepared foods.  To work around this, eat whole food as often as possible.  When ordering at a restaurant, be sure to ask how things are prepared (especially salad dressings, sauces and even vegetables which often have lots of butter or oils added).
  • Remember to add small amounts of good healthy fats to your meals to add flavor and satiety.  This could include putting chia seeds in your smoothie, guacamole (avocado) on your salad or chopped walnuts in your applesauce.  Fat is not the enemy.


If you found this blog helpful, please share it!  Our goal is to help spread hope giving information that is based in sound research and validated through real science.  If you are having health challenges and need some help, please don’t hesitate to call the clinic.  (We have clients who travel in from all over the country and would love to add you to the New Hope Health family roster!)  Call the clinic to schedule: 269-204-6525

Resource list:

1. LLC M. Pixabay Picture- low fat. Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/photos/picnic-mason-jar-salad-whole-food-2321445/. Accessed November 25, 2020.

2. Ge L, Sadeghirad B, Ball GDC, et al. Comparison of dietary macronutrient patterns of 14 popular named dietary programmes for weight and cardiovascular risk factor reduction in adults: Systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ. 2020. doi:10.1136/bmj.m696

3. Yadav V, Marracci G, Kim E, et al. Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.msard.2016.07.001

4. Sylvetsky AC, Edelstein SL, Walford G, et al. A high-carbohydrate, high-fiber, low-fat diet results in weight loss among adults at high risk of type 2 diabetes. J Nutr. 2017. doi:10.3945/jn.117.252395

5. Prentice RL, Aragaki AK, Howard B V., et al. Low-fat dietary pattern among postmenopausal women influences long-Term cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes outcomes. J Nutr. 2019. doi:10.1093/jn/nxz107

6. Assaf AR, Beresford SAA, Risica PM, et al. Low-Fat Dietary Pattern Intervention and Health-Related Quality of Life: The Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.016

7. Altomare DF, Rotelli MT, Palasciano N. Diet After Cholecystectomy. Curr Med Chem. 2017. doi:10.2174/0929867324666170518100053

8. Danielewicz H, Myszczyszyn G, Dębińska A, Myszkal A, Boznański A, Hirnle L. Diet in pregnancy—more than food. Eur J Pediatr. 2017. doi:10.1007/s00431-017-3026-5

Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease.  It does not take the place of a health care practitioner.  It is for educational purposes only.