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.”

photo credit: zeer.com

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. What about a product that says reduced fat? Which one is better…reduced fat or low fat? I ask because the only organic yogurt my local store sells is either reduced fat or low fat and I’m always confused as to which one to buy so I grab the non-organic one with full fat. So which one would you choose? I thought about even asking if they can start carrying the full fat organic kind but wasen’t sure if they would

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Christy. We don’t recommend products that have had the fat removed and there is likely very little difference between reduced fat of low fat. I would ask the store if they can carry full fat organic. Most stores will accommodate. ~Amy

  2. Marjorie Nienhius

    I was overweight in my late 20’s and decided to join a weight loss group. There were weekly meetings and as expected they pushed the use of their products. I ate according to the points allotted and in less than a year lost 100 lbs. Two months after I lost the 100 lbs I had to have my gallbladder removed. In the years following I have been able to eat less and less processed food. I have also since had half of my thyroid removed and cysts on my ovaries removed. ALL of these problems are due to the processed foods in my diet. The fat free, light and low fat versions of foods are literally ripping my body apart. I am posting to publicly pledge my family and I will only eat the freshest most natural foods I can possibly find. Thank you for creating this fabulous blog and helping people every where.

  3. I just started following your Blog a month or so ago and it has helped me so much with transitioning over to a real foods diet! We already ate a lot of fruits and veggies and love to juice. But even more so now with your wonderful recipes, dinners and getting easier to make from scratch and preparing lunches is a lot of fun. My husband will be happy to know that we are going to switch back to whole milk, he loves to drink it and I always felt that it was worse for him because of all the talk out there. I cannot drink it as much as him because it does upset my stomach, but we just were introduced to Almond milk and I really do like it in my smoothies. Do you have any advice for finding the right Almond Milk that I can use when I cannot drink the regular Whole Milk? I only drink milk in moderation so I should be fine but I just thought I would ask. I also just wanted to say thank you for your inspiration to start this blog and share it with us all. My husband and I have been married for a little over 3 years and we are 23 and 24 years old. 2 years ago my husband found out that he has Crohn’s disease, an auto immune disease that attacks the digestive system. I felt hopeless at times feeding him because his body could not break down good foods like fruits and vegetables. Honestly when he is in a flare up state it does not matter what you feed him and he will feel terrible. After a big scare in February where he was in the hospital for 3 days and had to have a blood transfusion I started thinking more about feeding him more organic foods. I knew that I would need to do it on a budget and we are finally able to start doing it more and more. We started with buying all of our fruits and veggies organic and have moved to buying others things like our bread and dairy organic. I love to cook and have always tried to cook with whole food ingredients and from scratch, but even more so now with your recipes I have truly been able to do that. So once again thank you!! (Sorry for the long post! I am just so excited about this!)

  4. It is a real eye opening when we think that we are following the best advice on what we eat and feed our children and then find out that there truly are food politics making these decisions. Nestlé also wrote a book Food Politics that is revealing of the food industry. even the Food Pyramid is politically influenced! the food industry had stockholders too and they watch the bottom line and the more food that is sold ,regardless of if it is good for the body , is good for the investors.

  5. I take the pledge! It’ll be easy for me because right now I’m doing the 28-day Fast Metabolism Diet and eating only fresh whole natural foods and no artificial sweeteners or added sugar (or dairy). I’m halfway through and feeling so much better. I love your blog and am glad you are spreading the word about real, healthy foods. I’ve spent years eating low fat/high carb or artificially sweetened foods and I’ve gotten heavier and heavier. Now I’m getting back to the “old” way of eating.

  6. I think this is a great challenge. I actually read your post about milk and non fat products and then did a little studying on my own and have already given up feeding non fat and low fat food items to my family. It was my first small step to feeding my family better. We are totally on board with this one. 2 adults and 4 children.

  7. Doesn’t skim milk have added vitamins though? I don’t think I could handle the taste of whole milk. I tried the silk milk too and just too yucky tasting for me personally.

    1. Sylvia RN MSN NP-C

      Skim milk has added vitamins, but they are FAT SOLUBLE vitamins, meaning your body can’t even absorb them unless they are consumed with fat! That’s why whole is so much better! Most other countries in the world eat full fat dairy products, and have lower rates of obesity compared to the USA!

  8. So- I would take this pledge, except- I can’t eat whole fat yogurt or milk- :( It gives me a horrible stomach ache! I am not lactose intolerant, I have had issues like this since I was a teenager, except it was far worse then- I couldn’t eat tomato sauce, fatty/greasy foods, or too much dairy of any kind.
    My husband and kids are the same way- we can eat full fat hard cheese, and the kids and I can eat full-fat fresh mozzarella, but if it isn’t fresh- ugh.
    …and I kinda love my non-fat plain greek yogurt… :)
    Anyone know why we would have such an intolerance for the fat? We eat a really healthy diet, and I make all of our bread, etc, from scratch.

  9. given how many comments are on here … this may never be seen.

    but. I’ll go ahead anyway.

    Seeking out low-fat foods is not necessarily bad for everyone. Some people are in a very slow state of oxidation, they are “Slow-Oxidizers”, they have hypoendocrine function. They have a decreased need for proteins and fats. And, in fact, too much fat in the diet can cause cancer (given the estrogen-like properties of many fats).

    Slow Oxidizer Diet Guide re Fats: “6-7% of diet high-quality fats and oils. Acceptable fats are from meat, eggs, dairy products such as butter or high-fat cheese, olive oil, and a little toasted almond butter. Avoid avocado, coconut oil and palm oil. These are too yin in Chinese medical terminology for common usage, no matter how nutritious they are.”

    I don’t think low fat milk is a wise choice, for instance, but if a person is a slow oxidizer it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to grab the lower fat greek yogurt. (Sugar and chemicals replacing fat is not healthful of course).

    I have heard the phrase “have some bread with your butter”. This is not a good choice for the slow oxidizer.

    There are generally 4 types of Oxidizers. The ideal is to have a Balanced Oxidation rate. Most people are either Fast Oxidizers, Slow Oxidizers, or less common, in a state of Mixed Oxidation.

    Some articles to reference:
    http://drlwilson.com/articles/Oxidation%20Types%201104.htm
    http://drlwilson.com/articles/slow%20diet.htm

    Oxidation is very important to consider. A slow oxidizer who eats too much fat/protien and not enough carbohydrate will further derrange their biochemistry, and further deplete their low energy levels; stressing their adrenals, etc. Whether the Slow (or Fast) Oxidizer realizes it, they are absolutely exhuasted “underneath”, which presents as anxiety in the individual, and other symptoms of body and mind.

    Another topic, not so much related to fats, but very important, is Methylation. Many mental illnesses are the result of poor methylation and problematic oxidation. as well as liver congestion, chemical exposture, parasitic/microbial infestation, and mineral depletion. Nutritional Balancing addresses all of these issues and more. Taking vitamins and avoiding processed foods is not enough for many people.

  10. I did some research many years ago into the low-fat/lite trend. One thing that I came up with, and I’m sorry I don’t remember the book it came from, was that non-fat is different than fat-free in the world of labels. Fat-free means modified and often includes hydrogenated oils/starches/sugars to beef up the flavor and texture. Non-fat means that the fat has been skimmed. So, plain, non-fat yogurt is not necessarily a bad option whereas fat-free (also available and you will see the different labels) is not a healthy choice. Just wanted to toss this into the conversation.

  11. My daughter (3) doesn’t eat any of that stuff anyways. I actually heard this information. I don’t usually by much low-non etc. But I am going to do this def for the week an make a permanent change!

  12. 2 adults, 1 kiddo! I’m super excited to try this! I started buying real butter a few months back, so I think I’m headed in the right direction! Happy pledging everyone!

  13. 2 adults and 2 kids under 3yo. We already doing it for about month now and will definitely continue as long as we can :)!!!!! Good luck to others!!!

  14. I have been incorporating the whole food challenge in my family and daycare. My struggles are needing to add more protein to lunches and being required to serve 1% or skim for all children over two years of age.

  15. My mother have always warned me about low fat foods and frozen foods that have a heap of sodium in them. Low fat and reduced fat have so much more of something else in order for it taste like something. It’s hard to explain and crazy at the same time! I am taking the pledge.

  16. This should be an easier pledge for our household because I have been transitioning to whole fat items since March when my daughters pediatrician suggested why it was better. Its been two weeks since I have made a pledge because I went out of town last week, but we are back on track now. Also, in regards to my last pledge, I tried 3 new foods, and loved them all! We are starting this pledge today and doing it for a week. We have 2 adults and a toddlers in our home!!

  17. The one thing I do with my milk (I drink raw, but you can do the same with pasteurized so long as it is non-homogenized) is to let it rest and skim the bulk of the cream from the top. I put that into a container usually in the frig or freezer and use that for whipped cream, sour cream, or butter. Haven’t tried making cream cheese yet.

    But, though my milk is “skimmed”, it is still probably between 1 & 2%, but we still get the fat in the long run.

  18. I have high cholesterol and am trying to not take medication for it. My doctor told me to watch my fat intake. I use plain, non-fat Greek yogurt. I usually have it in the morning (not everyday) with fresh fruit, almond slices and a drizzle of honey. I also make homemade tzatziki sauce with it. I am really afraid to switch to the full fat version.

  19. Sometimes I get so impatient with this conversation because it all seems and should be so obvious. I too had my gall bladder removed and I almost died from an infection (sepsis) due to the shock my system went through because of 40 stones. I was someone who vacillated between obsessively eating healthy foods, including vegetarian and macrobiotic diets to someone who ate anything and everything including oily chicken wings and bags of flavored potato chips,etc. And moderation was NOT on the menu! And alas it all caught up with me. So when the surgeon, who spent 6 hours cutting me open to remove a very inflamed organ, advised me to eat a low fat diet (which I had already started on my own the day I fell ill), I did not have to question his wisdom. Because, although their western version of a good diet (i.e. something resembling hospital food)is NOT what I define as healthy, I surely know that eating packaged, processed, unreal food is NOT a very smart value. Now because I not only need to protect my GI tract, but I need to lose more weight, I realize that eating “low fat” can simply entail eating less of even the healthy fats. Of course it goes without saying that I don’t eat cookies and candy and chicken wings anymore, etc. (at least not for the foreseeable future), but I also make things like my salad dressing with 9 parts balsamic to 1 part olive oil. I do stir fry’s by coating the pan with olive oil spray (organic) and use ingredients like homemade vegetable stock and amino acid to cook the rest. I drink almond milk (the unsweetened version) and I use nuts but sparingly. I juice fruits and veggies and do NOT worry about the sugar as it’s “real food and thus real sugar”. And for snacking, besides fruit and kale chips with a variety of seasonings, I make copious amounts of olive oil popped popcorn seasoned with everything from nutritional yeast to curry powder. I’m just saying, that I have to be aware of limiting the amount of fat (which without those awful binges of foods like chicken wings) is already achieving half the battle. So let me conclude by saying, for some of us, eating low fat greek yogurt seems to be an area where I can comfortably give up some of the fat calories so that I can be free to consume the olive oils and avocados and an occasional turkey burger! I’ve been feeling great without obsessing anymore!!!

  20. My husband and I started the mini-challenges a few weeks ago and are almost to week 6. What are your thoughts on neufchatel cheese. It is marketed as reduced fat cream cheese, but I heard that it is just made the french way using milk instead of cream.

  21. So non fat Greek yogurt isn’t good for you? Great because I’ve been mixing it with real Quaker rolled oats and fresh strawberries and thought I was eating a healthy breakfast.

  22. My husband and I have been doing this weekly pledge of eating whole products. So far so good! We started on Monday. We have been snowed in from last weekend (blizzard on long island). My husband and I quickly went food shopping the friday before when the storm already began. And we went to the closest grocery store due to the weather.

  23. How much fat from olive oil and real butter (cery seldom) is allowed? I also get fat from nuts (just a bit of chopped raw almonds on my oatmeal every morning), and avocados,

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Juanita. It’s not a matter of what is “allowed”. We just try and consume everything in moderation. Jill

  24. I’m glad this post is here. The fact is that our body was designed to consume specific levels of certain nutrients. When all this nonsense about fat came to be, the initial recommendation was to limit the intake of cholesterol. I’m not going to post links to the 100s of articles out there, but here is how it works. When you limit your cholesterol to the obsessive degree that individuals limited it to as per MDs and “experts,” you create a lack of cholesterol in the body. So, your body says “hmm… I need more cholesterol, this is too – hey, liver produce me some cholesterol” In case, anyone was wondering, the liver does not have a brain. So, the quantity that it produces in case of a shortage will be in excess. As a result, in an effort lower blood cholesterol levels – you end up with high cholesterol. In addition, what the “experts” realized later was that dietary cholesterol does not affect blood serum levels. It is in fact dietary fats that affect those levels. In my opinion, the obsession with nutrients comes from the lack of knowledge when it comes to cooking and feeding one’s family. For example, in Greece they don’t worry about nutrients, but the traditional diets, which are still maintained, are naturally healthy and high in good fats (ie sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel). In the US, the most popular fish is tilapia – not exactly a healthy fish. I’m sure the reader can make the connection here.

    1. All of this is so interesting. I don’t think it is necessarily a lack of knowledge that stops us from eating well. A lot of our confusion stems from the US not have a “food culture” since we are such a young country and almost all of us are immigrants at one point or another. It’s hard to try to emulate our family’s traditional, historical, ethnic European food culture. Which one to choose. I come from a German/French/Russian/English/Irish/Slovac background. Was I born to metabolize like an Eastern European or a Northern Atlantic European. I may eat like my mother and even my grandmothers but my great grandmothers either lived in Europe or an ethnic enclave here in the US. And they ate very differently from each other! When you add my husband and kids in you have to add Southern Europe as well. Americans have picked and chosen from many cultures for 100’s of years. The “melting pot” that we learned about includes food too! Thank you Lisa for helping us get back to basics.

  25. Michael Pollan seems to have been referring to products (cookies, yogurt, frozen desserts, etc) that have a bunch of ingredients. When the fat is removed, the manufacturer ramps up the sugar content (or adds weird ingredients) to make up for the lack of flavor or the weird texture in the low or non-fat version. But milk is just milk. You remove some fat and what remains is milk. They aren’t adding sugar to the milk to make it taste better. They aren’t adding chemicals. So I still haven’t seen a coherent reason to stop drinking low fat milk vs. whole milk. If you prefer the taste of whole milk, that would be a coherent reason.

    1. I just read the post on raw milk that included more of the Michael Pollan quote than what was included in this post. If what he says is true (i.e., that the extra fat in the milk helps our bodies absorb the vitamins) that would be a good reason to drink it. I’ll have to research this a bit more.

    2. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Kristen. I think the reason is that in order to get milk to low-fat, there is a lot more processing that happens. Hope that clarifies it. Jill

    3. There are a few reasons in whole vs skim milk to consider! I completely understand your point of view, because that was once exactly where i was. The best information i got was from our local dairy guy. We tested out whole raw milk to help w my sons serious allergies and my arthritis ( i was 27 when diagnosed). First- if you are not drinking raw milk, you are right, there isnt a real difference in skim and whole except less fat. The pasturization and homoginization removes many key vitamins and minerals, as well as beneficial bacteria. Second, the cows need to be grassfed rather han grained to gain as much health benefits from the milk. Same concept as raw local honey. Finally, and this is what stuck with me the most- he feeds the skim milk left over after his wife separates the cream for butter, etc to the PIGS! He said even in raw milk the nutritiional value is so low, its not worth the family drinking it! We drink about a gallon a week ( 2 adults, 1 toddler), and i am learning to use it in coffee, etc to counter costs. We have seen a difference :)

  26. We’re in! There are two adults and two kids in our household. I have never been a big fan of sugar-free and fat-free stuff in packaged food, but never thought about milk. We currently drink 1%,, so it will definitely be a switch. We’ll start off with a week, but I predict that we will soon switch over permanently!

  27. GREAT post! “We’ve gotten fat on low-fat products.”

    So true! I’m way healthier now that I just eat real food. No counting calories at all. My diet is filled with lots of healthy fats: coconut oil, butter, raw milk, nuts etc. It’s very important to recognize that “low fat” processed foods often means more sugar and sugar turns into fat. Thank you for your blog. Very inspirational!

    I’m curious, do you have an opinion on raw milk?

  28. I just wanted to say how thankful I am for finding your website. This milk post really made me want to search for local sources of whole milk. I was so excited to learn that there are two dairies left in our county and the one is within 3.5 miles of my house! I had no idea this market even existed and then I learned they also sell grass-fed beef! Without reading your post I would have never even looked for a source other than my grocery store. Thank you!

  29. Starting my first week with the mini-pledges. I love this one- wish more people understood how bad these products are for them! Especially now that anything “Light” or “Low Fat” will include the awful sugars such as sucralose!