The fat-free fallacy

Imagine yourself in this familiar situation: You’re at the store considering two similar foods options. They’re roughly the same product, except one boasts “no fat” and maybe even “high fiber.” You’re trying to eat healthy so you opt for the second choice, ¬†avoiding the fat. Sometimes these products are even labeled as the “smart” or “healthy” choice.
But are these low- or no-fat products really the better options?

Where Does the Fat Go?

Fat is a vital nutrient and is contained naturally in many foods. But apart from fueling your body, fat plays two important culinary roles: as a flavoring and a thickener. Unfortunately, fat has gained a bad rap in the nutritional world and people in general have acquired an aversion to it. So, to make up for the negative changes that occur in food when the fat is taken out, manufacturers have come up with some creative, sometimes concerning, solutions.
First, to augment the lackluster flavor inherent in fat-free or low-fat foods, companies generally add enormous amounts of sugar or salt. In fact, the fat-free versions of some foods even have more total calories than the traditional varieties, albeit less from fat.
Peanut butter is a prime example. The low-fat and standard peanut butters both have roughly the same amounts of total calories and only a few less grams of fat.
Several mysterious “fat replacers” have also found their way into our foods. These substances are generally a mixture of proteins, carbs and chemically altered fats. While they haven’t been conclusively linked with any major long-term side effects, they can have strange short-term effects on your body.
For example, olestra, one of the most widely used altered fats passes through your digestive tract completely untouched. Understandably, this causes digestive upset and also limits your ability to absorb fat-soluable vitamins and minerals. People who have a lot of olestra in their diet can even develop a deficiency in these nutrients.
Sometimes, the issue of satiation even drives manufacturers to even more out-of-the-box ideas. This includes the addition of cellulose to make food more filling and to act as a thickener. Put plainly, cellulose is saw dust. This by-product of lumber mills is finely ground and mixed with water until it is white and tasteless so that it has no effect on the final product. As an added bonus, the company can not only label food “low fat” but also “high fiber.”

Other Aspects to Consider

As with most health and fitness related discussions, there’s much more to think about than just how many calories you eat. As mentioned, your salad is full of vitamins and minerals that are fat-soluble,¬†meaning that they have to be eaten paired with a fat to be properly absorbed. Fat-free dressing, then, doesn’t allow you to fully benefit from your meal.
Also, not all fats as necessarily bad for you. Returning to the example of peanut butter, think about the fact that it contains many healthy fats that your body needs. Remember that, ultimately, you gain weight by eating too many calories regardless of whether they come from protein, fat or carbs. Instead of trying to eliminate fats from your diet completely, replace unhealthy fats with the beneficial options found in nuts, fish and olive oil.
Have you found a way to balance healthy fats in your diet? Please share your tips in the comments.


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