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Low-fat foods
Here at Colorado Mesa University, one of the most common elements among diets of health-conscious people is avoiding fat. The question is, then, is a low-fat diet healthy?


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The lowdown on low fat

As a nutritionist, it’s in my job description to discuss what people eat, and why. Here at Colorado Mesa University, one of the most common elements among diets of health-conscious people is avoiding fat. The question is, then, is a low-fat diet healthy?

A low-fat diet remains prevalent years after the trend became popular in the 1990’s. At this time, an influx of low-fat products began showing up in the supermarkets claiming benefits of weight loss, heart health and cancer prevention. Did our country show improved health and lower weight as a result of this change in diet? We did not. We saw chronic disease on the rise and our weight increasing.

Why was this? Well, in order to make these foods with naturally-occurring fat ‘healthier’, we replaced the fat with sugar and other chemically-engineered ingredients that did not benefit our health and, in many cases, were more harmful than the food in its original state. We also adopted the mentality that low-fat and low-calorie meant we could eat more of each food item, often in the form of refined carbohydrates. Without the fat, we found ourselves hungrier and constantly trying to feed our appetite with foods that were not cutting it.

While fat does have more calories per gram than carbohydrates, it also has many health benefits. It satisfies hunger in a way that carbohydrates can’t and, in turn, prevents us from overeating. Fat also serves as a source of energy once carbohydrate reserves are used up, particularly when we are exercising. Fat is an important part of cell membrane function and helps with nutrient absorption.

Fat should not be feared, but the types of fat we eat matter. Naturally-occurring fats in foods are essential to consume as part of a healthy diet. Be most careful to avoid artificially-created trans fats, found in packaged foods with the words ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially-hydrogenated’ listed in the ingredients. Fast food, packaged baked goods, fat-free/low-fat products and vegetable oils should be avoided for their long ingredient lists and the processing they have undergone.

Instead, eat natural animal fats in moderation and focus mostly on plant-based fats. Fats such as olive oil, olives, nuts/nut butters, avocados, coconut oil, butter, eggs and even full-fat dairy and grass-fed red meat are better choices.

While there can be a tendency to isolate and define certain nutrients or food groups as ‘bad’, a healthy diet should contain a variety of foods and include as many natural foods as possible.  A quality diet that tastes good, and feels good, is key in achieving long-term health.

By Jess Stieler,
Registered Dietitian,
Hamilton Recreation Center

Media Contact

Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations

dnunn@coloradomesa.edu

970.248.1868 (o)

970.640.0421 (c)