Why you should question reduced-fat foods

This is a thoughtful question from one of our readers. I encourage more questions of this nature because it stimulates an open dialogue as we discuss nutrition and how to make healthy consumer choices regarding food.

Question from reader:

I have a question about this post (regarding my suggestion to use full-fat dairy products), but I’m pretty sure I know how you’d answer. A lot of times Americans focus on healthful eating so they can lose weight. So eliminating reduced-fat foods seems counterproductive. But my understanding is that since reduced-fat foods are less nutrient-dense, they’re less effective in weight loss than a plate full of more natural foods would be. Is this correct?

Response from Traci Goodrich, NTP: 

This is an important question. I would say that reduced-fat foods are less effective in weight loss because they are harder for your body to digest, often have more sugar, and are often less satisfying than the full-fat counterpart. My criticism of reduced-fat foods, specifically reduced-fat dairy products, is your body actually needs the fat that has been eliminated in order to digest, absorb, and assimilate the fat-soluble vitamins contained in these foods. In my opinion, it is counterintuitive to view reduced-fat dairy as “health food” because the fat that has been eliminated makes it much more difficult for your body to digest and benefit from the nutrients contained in these foods. I would suggest not eating dairy at all, if it is reduced-fat. I think that it is more healthful to eat full-fat dairy products, but to also recognize what a portion is (1 cup of milk, a few ounces of cheese, 1 cup of yogurt), which takes some knowledge and a little restraint. There is also a plethora of foods that are naturally low in fat to choose from! If you are someone who has fully transitioned to a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet you will end up eating less, because you will be satiated after you eat. There is an appropriate ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrates (mostly from vegetables, grains in moderation) at each meal so that you walk away feeling satisfied and not hungry after a few hours. If you continue to gain weight after you’ve transitioned to a whole foods diet, I would look towards correcting your digestion by adding more culture foods and fermented foods that help to stimulate the digestive enzymes in your gut. 

A criticism I have of reduced-fat dry foods, such as granola bars and cereals, is that they are hard to digest and often loaded with sugar! With diabetes at epidemic proportions in this country, I would look towards reducing sugar as much as possible, and even being moderate with sugar in its whole form as with fruit and whole grains. 


I hope this response helps!

One thought on “Why you should question reduced-fat foods

  1. Yes! Very helpful. I've been thinking of words from one of your previous posts for the last several days: If your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it, you probably shouldn't eat it. Thanks for giving me food for thought (pun intended).

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