What is a low-fat diet?
The phrase “low-fat diet” sounds buzzy and promising for people looking to lose weight. After all, fat = bad, right? Well…it’s actually a bit more complex than that. Low-fat diets are often recommended for people who need to lose weight, mainly because fats are dense and provide a lot of calories, which may lead to weight gain. But fats come in many different forms and some fats are essential for a healthy body. For example, if you’re constantly cold and have dry skin, you may not be getting the right fats. Health experts recommend getting less than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat. A low-fat diet is defined as a diet where fat makes up 20 percent or less of the calories one consumes, according to Rachel Fine, MS, RD, CSSD, CDN of To The Pointe Nutrition. In extreme low-fat diets (which are not recommended by doctors), fat makes up less than 10 percent of total calories, according to Healthline. If you eat a low-fat diet, be on the lookout for the signs you’re not getting enough healthy fats.
Does a low-fat diet really work?
If you want to see the health benefits of a low-fat diet, you need to pay attention to not only the total amount of fats you consume but also what types of fats you’re eating. “There is a misconception about low-fat diets for health,” Fine says. “First, our body depends on fat. Fat is an essential macronutrient promoting satiety and satisfaction at meals. Additionally, fat aids with digestion, hormone production, vitamin transport, vitamin absorption, and even bone health! When it comes to weight management and heart disease, the key is choosing plant-based sources of unsaturated fats that promote the replacement of saturated fat and trans fats.” Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, which can lower cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease. Check out our full guide to the differences between those kinds of fats.
Health benefits of a low-fat diet
Eating less fat can lead to a healthier heart and body, says Natalie Allen, RD, instructor of biomedical sciences and team dietitian at Missouri State University. Look at it as a way to get to a healthy body weight that comes with a slew of other health benefits. “The main health benefit is going to be to the heart,” Allen says. “Heart disease is a pretty serious issue for both men and women, and we know too much fat can cause clogging of the arteries [and] high cholesterol and lead to more concerning things like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. That’s why we want people to limit their fat intake.”