Eating a diet low in fat has many health benefits. It can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. When choosing low-fat foods, it’s important to look at the total fat content as well as the types of fat. Focus on getting more unsaturated fats from plant sources and less saturated and trans fats from animal products.
Why eat low-fat foods?
Here are some of the top reasons to include more low-fat foods in your diet:
- Can help you lose weight – Lower fat foods tend to be lower in calories, making it easier to reduce your overall calorie intake for weight loss.
- Reduces heart disease risk – Eating less saturated and trans fats and more unsaturated fats can help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and reduce plaque buildup in arteries.
- Lowers diabetes risk – Replacing foods high in saturated fat with foods high in polyunsaturated fat can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce diabetes risk.
- Decreases inflammation – Saturated fats and trans fats can increase inflammation in the body which is linked to many chronic diseases.
- Improves gut health – Dietary fat impacts the diversity of bacteria species living in the gut. Limiting fat, especially from animal products, can improve gut microbiome.
Tips for following a low-fat diet
Shifting to a low-fat diet doesn’t mean you have to give up taste or satisfaction from your meals. Here are some tips to help you adapt:
- Gradually reduce high-fat foods like fatty meats, whole milk dairy, and fried items. This allows your taste buds time to adjust.
- Cook methods like baking, broiling, grilling, and steaming instead of frying.
- Use spices, herbs, vinegars, citrus, etc. to add flavor without adding fat.
- When recipes call for fat like oil or butter, use less than the amount listed.
- Choose lower fat substitutions like skim or 1% milk instead of whole, and lean cuts of meat.
- Limit hydrogenated fats and trans fats that are in many processed foods.
- Check nutrition labels to compare fat content between products.
- Eat more plant foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains that are naturally low in fat.
Low-fat protein foods
Getting adequate protein on a low-fat diet is important for building and maintaining muscle mass. Here are some healthy low-fat protein sources:
- Skinless chicken breast
- Extra lean ground turkey (99% fat free)
- White fish like cod, halibut, flounder
- Shellfish like shrimp, crab, lobster
- Egg whites or substitute eggs
- Lean cuts of pork and beef like tenderloin or top round
- Low-fat dairy products like skim milk, nonfat Greek yogurt, and part-skim mozzarella
- Tofu and tempeh
- Beans, lentils, peas
- Nuts like almonds, pistachios, and walnuts
- Seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, and flax
Some preparation tips for low-fat proteins:
- Trim any visible fat before cooking meats.
- Use healthy cooking methods like baking, broiling, or grilling instead of frying.
- Limit the amount of oil used when cooking proteins.
- Use spices and herbs to add flavor without adding fat.
Low-fat dairy foods
Dairy foods provide calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients. Opting for low-fat versions allows you to get these important nutrients without extra saturated fat and calories. Some good low-fat dairy options include:
- Skim or 1% milk
- Low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt and Greek yogurt
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Light, reduced-fat, or part-skim cheese
- Low-fat kefir
- Frozen yogurt and ice cream with low fat content
- Powdered milk
- Evaporated skim milk
Tips for using low-fat dairy:
- Use skim or 1% milk when cooking instead of higher fat varieties.
- Top plain nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit rather than sugary, flavored yogurts.
- Blend low-fat cottage cheese into smoothies instead of bananas or avocado for creaminess.
- Use a sprinkle of parmesan cheese rather than more calorie-dense hard cheeses.
- Substitute evaporated skim milk for heavier cream in recipes.
Low-fat grain foods
Enjoying whole grains can help boost fiber and nutrients on a low-fat diet. Here are some healthy low-fat grain options:
- 100% whole wheat or whole grain bread, pasta, and tortillas
- Old fashioned oats and other oat-based cereals
- Brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa
- Corn tortillas
- Whole grain crackers and crispbreads
Tips for preparing low-fat whole grains:
- Compare nutrition labels and choose 100% whole grain options that are higher in fiber.
- Opt for plain grains without added fats from cheese, oils, butter, etc.
- Limit fat used in cooking grains. Broth or seasoning can enhance flavor.
- Enjoy oatmeal made with skim milk and topped with fruit instead of heavy cream.
- Choose air-popped popcorn over oil-popped varieties.
Low-fat fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Fill your plate with these low-fat produce picks:
- Greens like spinach, kale, lettuces, swiss chard, collards
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage
- Carrots, squash, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini
- Asparagus, green beans, artichokes, okra, beets
- Tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms
- Berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
- Cherries, grapes, pineapple, mango, citrus fruits
- Melons – cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew
- Apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots
- Bananas, kiwis
Tips for preparing low-fat fruits and veggies:
- Eat produce raw or lightly cooked to retain nutrients.
- Roast, bake, or sauté with broth or a small amount of oil instead of frying.
- Avoid heavy sauces and dips that can add fat. Opt for salsa, hummus, or Greek yogurt-based dips.
- Limit the amount of oils, butters, and dressings added.
- Use herbs, spices, vinegars, mustard, and citrus juice to add flavor.
Low-fat condiments, dressings, and spreads
Condiments, dressings, and spreads often contain hidden sources of fat and calories. Make sure to check labels and choose low-fat options whenever possible. Here are some smart swaps:
|Higher Fat||Lower Fat Swap|
|Regular salad dressings||Low-fat vinaigrettes, lemon juice, vinegar|
|Sour cream||Fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt|
|Mayonnaise||Mustard, hummus, salsa|
|Butter, margarine||Low-fat spreads, mashed avocado|
|Cream cheese||Low-fat cottage cheese, ricotta|
|Oils for cooking||Broth, wine, lemon juice, spices|
|Sugary jam, jelly||All-fruit spread|
Some other tips for condiments and spreads:
- Choose low-sodium varieties to limit bloating.
- Make your own salad dressing with vinegar, mustard, and herbs.
- Top bread with mashed berries or bananas instead of butter.
- Replace sour cream with plain Greek yogurt in dips and sauces.
Low-fat recipes and meal ideas
With a little creativity, you can adapt favorite recipes to be lower in fat and calories. Here are some delicious low-fat meal ideas to try:
- Oatmeal made with skim milk, topped with fruit and nuts
- Egg white omelet with veggies
- Whole grain toast with sliced banana
- Greek yogurt parfait with granola and berries
- Peanut butter and low-sugar jelly on whole wheat bread
- Soup and salad – chicken noodle soup with mixed greens salad
- Veggie wraps with hummus in whole wheat tortilla
- Open-faced sandwiches with lean protein, veggies, and mustard
- Quinoa tabbouleh salad with chickpeas and feta
- Tuna or salmon salad over greens with balsamic vinaigrette
- Chicken or shrimp stir fry with broccoli and brown rice
- Zucchini noodles with marinara, turkey meatballs, and parmesan
- Baked cod with herb seasoning and roasted Brussels sprouts
- Black bean tacos on corn tortillas with salsa and guacamole
- Turkey chili with butternut squash over quinoa or brown rice
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Air-popped popcorn
- Whole grain crackers with hummus or avocado
- Nonfat Greek yogurt with nuts and cinnamon
- Cottage cheese with tomato and pepper slices
- Apple slices with natural peanut butter
- Kale chips seasoned with sea salt
Foods to limit on a low-fat diet
When following a low-fat eating pattern, you’ll want to cut back on these foods that tend to be higher in saturated fat, trans fat, and total fat:
- Fatty cuts of meat like bacon, sausage, ribs, hot dogs, cold cuts, prime rib
- Whole milk, 2% milk, full-fat cheese and ice cream
- Butter, cream, sour cream, whipped cream
- Lard and shortening
- Palm and coconut oils
- Baked goods like cookies, cakes, muffins, doughnuts, croissants
- Fried foods
- Fast food like burgers, chicken nuggets, fries
- Chips, crackers, pretzels, and buttery popcorn
- Creamy sauces and gravies
- Salad dressings, mayonnaise, creamy dips
Tips for dining out on a low-fat diet
You don’t have to avoid restaurants completely when limiting your fat intake. With some simple strategies, you can still enjoy meals out while sticking to your healthy eating goals:
- Research the menu online and decide what to order ahead of time.
- Opt for grilled, baked, broiled, poached, or roasted preparations.
- Request sauces and dressings on the side.
- Ask if dishes can be prepared without added butter or oil.
- Choose a green salad with vinegar dressing or a broth-based soup to start.
- Share an entree with a friend or take half home for later.
- Substitute vegetables or fruit instead of fries or chips.
- Ask for whole wheat breads and pasta in place of white varieties.
Following a low-fat diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats can help you feel great while improving your overall health. The key is choosing naturally low-fat foods rather than highly processed “diet” products. With some simple substitutions and adjustments to cooking techniques and recipes, it’s easy to create satisfying low-fat meals at home or when dining out.