Learning to reduce fat in your diet may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be hard work. A few simple swaps can help you plan more heart-healthy, low-fat meals, all while boosting the flavour!
Here’s why cutting fatty foods can be helpful and what a day of low-fat eating might look like. The sample menu (described below) walks you through a day of meals, including snacks and dessert.
When a low-fat diet can be beneficial
Cutting fat from the foods you eat can lower calories and reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. An abundance of saturated fat can increase LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, increasing heart disease risk.¹ According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease remains the leading cause of death in America.² But there are several ways to reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in your diet. Cutting back on saturated fats and increasing fibre intake are great places to start.
High cholesterol is often accompanied by other conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity, and insulin resistance. Clusters of these conditions in one person can lead to a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, which dramatically increases the risk for major cardiovascular events. Research has determined that along with physical activity, eating plans that incorporate low-fat meals, like the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, can help patients improve their metabolic health.³
Cutting back on fat can be beneficial, but it can also make things taste bland. Fat is well known for providing flavour, and slashing it can be a big loss in the taste department. Make up for those deficits by swapping higher fat ingredients for low-calorie flavour boosters, like spices, fresh herbs, vinegar, and citrus.
Many popular low-fat packaged foods replace fat with sugar and salt, leaving them with even less nutrition to offer. For example, many brands of low-fat salad dressings have more sweeteners and sodium than their full fat counterparts. With so many Americans already taking in excessive amounts of sugars and salt, reading labels and gravitating towards minimally processed foods is certainly worthwhile.⁴
There are plenty of low-fat whole foods to choose from, including:
Grains, such as rice, oats, pasta, and cereal
Low-fat yoghurt, milk, cottage cheese
Lean meats and fish
Legumes, such as peas, beans, and lentils
Sample low-fat meal plan
Fat is a vital macronutrient in the diet, so the goal is moderation. Completely banishing fat from your diet would be fantastically difficult, plus you would risk missing out on important nutrients like bone-building minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. High-quality fats from unsaturated sources, like nuts, avocado, and olive oil, promote heart health and should make up the majority of your fat intake.6
For a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5% to 6% of total calories for folks that need to lower their cholesterol; that’s only 13 grams of saturated fat per day.⁷
Here is what a balanced, low-fat meal plan can look like.
1 cup cooked oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon + ½ cup fresh berries
2 scrambled egg whites made with nonstick cooking spray
Coffee with nonfat milk
Start your day with cinnamon-spiked, whole-grain goodness topped with seasonal fruit. Protein helps support healthy muscles, and the soluble fibre in oats and berries has been found to help lower LDL levels.8
Sliced turkey breast with spinach, tomato, and mustard on whole-grain sandwich- thin bread
1 cup low-sodium vegetable soup
1 medium apple with 1 tbsp peanut butter
Keep energy levels high through the middle of the day with lean protein and plenty of fruits and veggies. A small portion of healthy fats from peanut butter easily fits into this meal.
1 cup air-popped popcorn
1 cup baby carrots
Fight off a late-day energy slump with a filling, low-fat snack.
1 piece of grilled salmon
¾ cup cooked brown rice
1 cup grilled zucchini
1 glass of red wine (if you drink)
Grilling is a great way to prepare low-fat meals. If you don’t have a grill, simply roast in the oven at high heat (425 degrees F or 218 degrees C).
1-ounce dark chocolate (About 28 grams)
1 medium orange
Scratch that dessert itch with a sensible portion of something sweet. Then cleanse the pallet with high-fibre fruit to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
Low-fat meals can be fresh, delicious, and easy. Set a target and limit daily saturated fat intake to promote heart health and keep calories in check. For a more personalised plan, discuss your needs with your healthcare provider, and consider setting up an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts.
Castro-Barquero S, Ruiz-León AM, Sierra-Pérez M, Estruch R, Casas R. Dietary Strategies for Metabolic Syndrome: A Comprehensive Review. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):2983. Published 2020 Sep 29. doi:10.3390/nu12102983
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the Facts: Added Sugars.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Most People Consume Too Much Salt.
US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.
American Heart Association. Saturated Fat.
Soliman GA. Dietary Fibre, Atherosclerosis, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1155. Published 2019 May 23. doi:10.3390/nu11051155
This story first appeared on www.health.com.
(Credit for the hero and featured image: Ella Olsson/Unsplash)
© 2021. Health Media Ventures, Inc. . All rights reserved. Licensed from Health.com and published with permission of Health Media Ventures, Inc. . Reproduction in any manner in any language in whole or in part without prior written permission is prohibited.
Health and the Health Logo are registered trademarks of Health Media Ventures, Inc. Used under License.