Low-fat vs. full-fat foods? The best bets for weight loss

  • 2 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

Have you ever stared at the dairy case, pondering if you should choose nonfat, low-fat, or full-fat foods? Here's what you need to know to make the right choice for you.

Low-fat vs. full-fat foods? The best bets for weight loss

Should I eat full-fat foods to lose weight?

Let's not lose sight of the core of weight management-calories. If you want to lose weight, your calorie intake must be less than the calories burned. Since fat contains the most calories per gram (compared to alcohol, carbs, and protein), people often target fat as a way to reduce calories. However, all eating plans will result in weight loss if you achieve a calorie deficit, whether you choose full-fat or low-fat options.

Full-fat foods may be the better choice when:

1. Following a low-carb diet or keto diet

Keto diets are high fat by design to make the body burn fat for fuel instead of carbs. The satiating effect of high-fat foods may make this plan easier to follow for some people. Also, it's impossible to cut out carbs and fats at the same time. Eating fewer carbs leaves more room in your budget for fats.

2. Saving fat calories with the lower-fat version is counterproductive

Fat helps our food taste good. Manufacturers often add more sugar to make up for the flavor missing from fat. For example, reduced-fat peanut butter can be similar in calories to standard versions. Given that the fat in peanuts is mainly healthy, unsaturated fat, it makes sense to stick with the standard version.

3. Low-fat options sacrifice nutrition

Reduced-fat packaged foods can be more processed and have more added sugars or refined grains. Swapping these blood glucose-raising sugars and refined grains for healthy fats can actually benefit your health and weight loss goals.

4. You aren't satisfied by low-fat foods

If low-fat foods leave you hungry and feeling deprived, you may wind up eating larger portions or turning to other foods, making it difficult to reach your weight-loss goal.

Low-fat foods may be the better choice when:

1. You see results on a low-fat plan

The best eating plan is the one that works for you. If you do best on a low-fat diet for weight loss or health reasons, choosing lower-fat foods will be your priority. For medical reasons, such as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or very high triglyceride (blood fat) levels, you may do better on a low-fat diet.

2. You can save calories without losing out on nutrients

Suppose you consume three servings of dairy a day (one cup of milk, one container of yogurt, and one serving of cheese). In that case, you can cut out more than 200 calories a day by swapping to reduced-fat versions without sacrificing nutrition. Low-fat dairy products contain the same amount of calcium and protein as the full-fat versions.

3. Low-fat options work as well as high-fat foods to satisfy cravings

Looking for an ice cream treat? If you find that 1/2 cup of Breyers light vanilla ice cream at 110 calories satisfies as much as 1/2 cup of Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream at 250 calories, this is a worthwhile swap.

The overall quality of your eating plan matters more than whether you choose low-fat or full-fat foods. Tracking your food and beverage intake can help you pinpoint foods that support or sabotage your efforts to lose weight. Use MyNetDiary's Daily Notes feature to record your hunger and fullness so you can discover which choices work best for you.

Related Content

Fat facts: what you need to know about the 4 types of fats in foods
What are macronutrients and what do they have to do with weight loss?

Contributions by Kathy Isacks MPS, RDN, CDCES

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Foods & Recipes->Dairy Foods Meal Planning & Diets->Low Fat & High Fat
Oct 13, 2021
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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