In 1984, the National Institute of Health encouraged Americans to decrease their fat intake, claiming that rates of atherosclerosis — or plaque buildup in the arteries — would be conquered by the year 2000 as a result.
Suddenly, milk, yogurt, salad dressings, and started were being labeled with bright “FAT-FREE” stickers as a result.
But today, atherosclerosis remains the leading cause of illness and death in Canada according to Pfizer. Clearly, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. So, why not?
The Truth About Fat-Free Products
Here’s the thing: food companies are in the business of selling food (duh). And in order for them to do so, their products have to taste good.
The trouble is, once you remove all the fat from a food—especially when it's fat that naturally should exist, like in milk—it tastes like garbage. Food companies became aware of this and needed to find a solution, which came in the form of added sugar.
Sugar compensated for the lack of flavours accompanying fat-free foods. As a result, people with the best intentions began unknowingly consuming foods that were packed with calories in the form of sugar. And if it wasn’t regular table sugar, it was artificial sweeteners or chemicals that would keep calories low but add no nutritional value. If anything, sweeteners like this just make matters worse, which I talk about more in another blog post.
The Common Culprits
Here are foods you should never buy fat-free:
Let’s take the example of Activia Fat-Free Strawberry-Flavoured yogurt. Half a cup only has 75 calories and no fat, meaning it should be a good option, right? Wrong. That half-cup serving actually has 12g — or three teaspoons — of added sugar! In other words, 65 percent of its calories are pure sugar. With the American Heart Association’s recommendation that women have six teaspoons of added sugar per day (and nine teaspoons per day for men), you’ve already consumed half of your daily intake in a mere half-cup of yogurt! And keep in mind: People rarely eat within the recommended portion size.
NOTE: Added sugars mainly come from flavoured yogurts. Fat-free, flavourless yogurts like Liberté’s plain, fat-free Greek yogurt, for example, has a mere 5g of sugar, much of which occurs naturally in lactose (milk sugar).
2. Salad dressing
Fat-free salad dressings are packed with added sugar. Kraft’s Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette, for example, has 5g of sugar in 2 tablespoons. It’s low in calories — 50 calories per serving — but almost fifty percent of those calories come from sugar! Stay away!
Milk today is fortified with vitamins A and D, but these are fat-soluble vitamins. In other words, you need a bit of fat in your milk to properly absorb these important vitamins. I would only opt for whole milk if you're using it in your tea, coffee, or latte, and aren't having more than two of these per day. Otherwise, it truly can be a source of unnecessary calories to use whole milk with everything like to go with your breakfast cereal. But at the very least, sticking to 1 - 2% milk is a great way of cutting calories but helping the vitamins get absorbed!
4. Peanut butter
The fat-free kind is filled with sugars like sucrose and corn syrup to add more flavour. Get the full-fat stuff or — better yet — make your own at home! It’s honestly so simple.
5. Store-bought granola and baked goods
It’s the same deal for reduced-fat baked goods and granola… Low in fat, but super high in sugar. Stay away!
The Bottom Line
Fat-free options might seem like a great way to save calories and avoid weight gain as a result. But the fact of the matter is that these seemingly healthy products are loaded with added sugars that wreak havoc on your health. A good question to ask yourself is: Should this product naturally contain fat? If the answer is yes, it's likely best to go with the full-fat option.
Keep in mind too that although more work needs to be done, many researchers have found the link between sugar, obesity, type II diabetes, and metabolic syndrome to be a very strong one according to Credit Suisse Research Institute’s 2013 report on sugar.
Finally, fat free or not, sticking to the recommended portion size on the bottle is always ideal to avoid consuming way more calories than you need!
You Tell Me!
Check out the labels on some of the “healthy” fat-free items in your kitchen right now. Any surprises? Let me know in the comments below!!!