Why We Avoid Low-Fat Products

When I first learned that the whole low-fat campaign was pretty much a hoax I was absolutely shocked as well. For years I was right there on that bandwagon bingeing on everything from low-fat Snackwells cookies to fat-free flavored yogurt to low-fat ice cream. And as it turns out, according to Michael Pollan, “We’ve gotten fat on low-fat products.”

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Here’s a direct quote from Pollan’s book Food Rules that explains it all:

The forty-year-old campaign to create low-fat and nonfat versions of traditional foods has been a failure: We’ve gotten fat on low-fat products. Why? Because removing the fat from foods doesn’t necessarily make them nonfattening. Carbohydrates can also make you fat, and many low- and nonfat foods boost the sugars to make up for the loss of flavor … You’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than bingeing on “lite” food products packed with sugars and salt.

Another New York Times bestselling author, Mark Bittman, agrees in his book Food Matters. He says, “The low-fat craze caused millions, maybe tens of millions, of Americans actually to gain weight, because they were reaching for ‘low-fat’ but high-calorie carbs.” And right on cue directly from Pollan’s In Defense of Food:

At this point you’re probably saying to yourself, Hold on just a minute. Are you really saying the whole low-fat deal was bogus? But my supermarket is still packed with low-fat this and no-cholesterol that! My doctor is still on me about my cholesterol and telling me to switch to low-fat everything. I was flabbergasted at the news too, because no one in charge – not in government, not in the public health community – has dared to come out and announce: Um, you know everything we’ve been telling you for the last thirty years about the links between dietary fat and heart disease? And fat and cancer? And fat and fat? Well, this just in: It now appears that none of it was true. We sincerely regret the error.

So let’s put the low-fat craze behind us and move forward by embracing the right portions of real food and real food only. No more faked low-fat products where according to Pollan, “fats in things like sour cream and yogurt are replaced with hydrogenated oils” and “the cream in ‘whipped cream’ and ‘coffee creamer’ are replaced with corn starch.”

And just to be clear this applies to all reduced fat products, including milk. When the fat is removed from dairy products like milk some of the beneficial nutrients are lost with the fat as well. We just recently switched to whole milk ourselves, and I was honestly a little scared. I drank skim milk up until last year after all! But along with reducing our overall consumption of milk it has actually been a surprisingly smooth transition for us. And after learning the shocking truth behind what we’ve been told for so many years…I’ve never looked at another low-fat product the same again.

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264 thoughts on “Why We Avoid Low-Fat Products”

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  1. mccartygc@gci.net

    Lisa- I’ve been drinking lactaid free low fat milk. It’s made a huge difference in my digestive.
    Should I switch to the whole version lactaid free?

  2. This looks like a plan I can do! It’s what I’ve been looking for. A little scared because I need to lose weight also. I’ve always used half and half and either turbanado sugar or flavored syrup in coffee. What do you suggest for a healthier but still creamy and a little sweet?

  3. I like the way you think. I’m also trying to avoid refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Also artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. I try to avoid partially hydrogenated oils (aks trans fat). I don’t like the idea of farmed raised meats. I prefer grass fed beef, wild cought fish and cage free poultry. I reall try to stay away from man-made chemicals highly processed foods, fast foods and junk foods. I like to buy organic and GMO free foods.

  4. I get the fat thing, but I have one question. I have read that the kind of fat matters. We should be getting most of our fat from plants – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated – rather than the saturated fats found in animal products. Problem for me is I love butter and cream. Is it still true we should reduce the consumption of saturated fat?

  5. I was raised on Laurel’s Kitchen, but admit getting caught up in the low-fat/no-fat craze for a while. One thing I have never given up though is making my own yogurt, usually with 2% no growth hormones milk. Now that we are switching to whole milk and trying to use organic when possible, I can only get organic milk that is ultra-pasteurized. Can you make yogurt with ultra-pasteurized milk? I thought that removed all the good bacteria. What do you suggest is the best solution?

  6. Well this is interesting because my problem with milk is that I find 2% or higher just takes like glue on it’s own. My favourite has always been skim with the exception of chocolate being 1% and even 1% white is ok because I was raised on it but now I want to take the pledge and am at odds with what to do.

  7. We’re all in! We’ve been doing each week and compounding and are loving it so far! The hardest one for us has been no fast food. We’re an on-the-go family and I need more ideas for simple, healthy food to bring with us. Any suggestions?

  8. Jennifer Aldrich

    We are a 2 adult and 3 child family (10, 6 and 4) and we are all in. My husband was shocked about the milk, but is slowly coming around. My 10 year old, a former trix yogurt eater, now loves whole milk yogurt with maple syrup and vanilla

  9. I’m waiting to have heart bypass due to 90% blockage (genetics) and I find it very confusing as to which way to go on this. Doctors say low fat, so as a consumer your head is reeling as to which way to go. I definitely prefer butter over margarine!!

  10. I cant do it. I lost 45 lbs from 37% body fat to 24% on real food. Not processed with the exception of
    Fat free salad dressing (I eat a ton of salads and raw green veggies) I need a little flavor. Also I drink about 8 oz of fat free milk a day. I also use a tbls a day of reduced fat canola land lakes (sp?) butter. My starch consumption is is also a lite version of bread, totilla or English muffin. Again, I only have 3 of these a day so I’m not overindulging on anything. I’ve maintained my weight and really can’t get back to whole milk and full on butter. I don’t eat that much of either one so I’m sticking to what I know has worked for me. Good luck to all who do this, but I’ve experienced great results with what I’ve been doing. I feel great and I’m told I look great too. It’s a life style change, not a diet.

  11. Both my 3 and 5 year old are great eaters and in the upper percentile for height and weight. My doctor recommends 2% milk for them so they don’t get so much fat. I am not sure what to do. Not sure I understand why 2% is considered a bad/processed food. I am on board with no low fat, etc. food….always have been….

  12. I’ve had the “100 days of real food” book for a couple of weeks now and have not been purchasing any lowfat, nonfat, etc. since I received it. No more ever again. (3 of us in my household, all in!)

  13. I totally agree with this concept, but I have a question. What about organic plain 0% fat Greek yogurt? I know the fat is not being replaced with hydrogenated oil since it is certified organic. Is this still not considered real food? Just curious. Thanks. Love your site!

  14. Two adults, two children. I haven’t bought anything labeled “low fat” or “light” since reading Pollan’s book two years ago. And really didn’t much before because I realized a lot of it contains artificial sweetener which I hate. My husband had done Atkins and paleo ten+ years ago and so we knew about the flaws in the “low fat” diet theory and cut out a lot of sugar and refined grains. It surprises me and is a little scary that so many Americans are misinformed still. This info has been out there for more than a decade. It’s up to all of us to learn about what our bodies need and nutrition, but it certainly doesn’t help when the government spreads misinformation. Thanks Lisa and crew for getting the word out. I have your book and love it!

  15. In 2008 I was very ill with hyperthyroidism (diagnosed with Graves’ disease) for which my Endocrinologist wanted to kill off my thyroid gland, which would have made me dependent on a lifelong regime of synthetic thyroid hormone – we can’t live without thyroid hormone. Feeling uncomfortable with the Endo’s recommendation, I switched to another health care provider who specialised in Nutrition (amongst other things – he is actually a Dentist). He taught me about the ‘fat makes you fat’ myth and the perils of low fat dairy, sugar and other highly processed carbs and grains. After 18 months of following his advice I achieved a full remission and ditched my thyroid inhibiting medication completely. I am still well today – something all of the Drs I had been to about my condition told me was impossible. I’m a believer!

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your website! I have made SO many recipes frim it and loved all of them! Not that I can say rhe same for my kids and husband but we’re workin on it! I wanted to address the consumption of dairy milk. We actually have a local dairy (IWIG) that still pasteurizes their milk in the VAT pasturization process, which simply means the milk is pasteurized at a lower temperature. This process allows our bodies to digest it better. (Ie my husband “though” he was lactose intolerant but when we COMPLETELY switched to this milk (whole) he had NO issues. I truly find it disturbing that our food companies continue to pollute our food that is consumed on a daily basis! I make the effort to buy my milk and bread (if I don’t have time to make) from completely seperate stores, make several different stops to do this. And others should do this as well! We have GOT to keep our truly natural food system alive! And it’s gonna take all of us to promote that simply because it’s so much easier to head to fhe McDonalds drive-thru…

  17. I can’t get over this revelation, I am back to regular cheese, yogurt, whole fat everything, in moderation!! No more low fat products, I’m free…………

  18. We are a 2% milk family as that is what the pediatrician recommends for my 3 year old . Also 2% Fage yogurt, that was a major move to get my husband to trade in his yoplait for more protein, less sugar and a lot fewer ingredients! We don’t do fake food! That includes low fat, no fat, sugar free etc. Definitely a work in progress.
    3 adults and 1 child

  19. There is just one person in my household. I have MS and am trying to find a way to eat healthier and hopefully that will provide my body with the right kinds of foods to help with MS fatigue. It is difficult to fix meals for one person but I am willing to give it a try. Right now I eat out almost every day at least one meal. I don’t have any control of what is going into the meals that I am eating. I am sure there is too much salt and who knows what else!
    I am willing to make a 6 week pledge.
    Thank you!

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  21. I just stumbled across your page and am a little overwhelmed by all the information. I buy a lot of organic, but am a little nervous about making the switch to full fat products, because I recently found out that I have high cholesterol. I have also tested positive for rheumatoid arthritis and am learning about the inflammation link to heart issues. All this to say I am not sure which switches to my diet would be best for me

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Carol. It is important to follow a physicians advice if you are experiencing medical problems. If you are looking for advice specific to an anti-inflammation diet, you might seek the advice of a doctor that practices integrative medicine because they incorporate a lot nutrition and prevention into their approach. There is a lot of good (and bad) info our online, as well. You might take a look at Dr. Andrew Weil’s site. He does a lot of anti-inflammation work. You can still eat completely real, but you might have to adjust the rules a bit to meet your needs. :) ~Amy

    2. I’d like to temper Amy’s advice on following your doctor’s recommendations with the caveat that “most” western physicians are not knowledgeable about nutrition or natural ways of improving health. Our healthcare system is currently designed to treat disease processes…in other words to treat symptoms–not to maintain health. Most physicians will spout the same advice you hear from the food manufacturers, which is contrary to what is required to maintain health. So please do some research on your own about macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) and about natural approaches to health.

      1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

        Vaughn, I agree which is why I suggested finding a doctor who practices integrative medicine because they take a more holistic approach to “treating” patients. They focus much more on prevention and nutrition. I am also a big fan of naturopaths. :)