Why low-fat or fat-free foods aren’t always healthy

Low in fat but high in sugar.

If you’re watching your diet, foods marketed as “fat-free” and “low-fat” might seem to be the way to go. In reality, they aren’t always ideal. Rather than being healthier alternatives, some of these foods may be laden with unhealthy additives while lacking healthy fats and other nutrients.

In place of healthy fats, manufacturers often use ingredients such as sugar, artificial sweeteners and flour that add empty calories, as well as salt and flavourings. Because the lack of fat is less satisfying to your stomach, you may end up eating more than normal.

A healthier option would be to eat the regular versions of foods that have good fats, but in smaller portions. Good fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated – have several health benefits, including lowering ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease.

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Fat-free salad dressing: You’ll save on calories but you may end up with a concoction of sugar water instead of dressing and lose out on healthy oils. These dressings may also impair the absorption of nutrients from fruits and vegetables. A better option would be to drizzle extra virgin olive oil or freshly squeezed lime on your salad.

Reduced fat peanut butter: Peanut butter has healthy unsaturated fats which you lose in the reduced-fat version. Manufacturers typically add refined carbohydrates and sugar to replace the good fats. A better option would be natural peanut butter, which contains only peanuts and salt.

Low-fat flavoured yogurt: Yogurt is an excellent source of nutrients and probiotics, or good bacteria. The low-fat version has all these nutrients, too – but some brands may also have added sweeteners to compensate for the fat. Even if artificial sweeteners are used, these can cause sugar cravings.

Egg substitutes: These egg-white based replacements for whole eggs lack nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins and unsaturated fats. They also come with additives for colour and texture.