Low-fat diets have been around for decades.
In fact, they were first recommended almost a century ago.
So what’s the skinny on low-fat diets?
What is A Low-Fat Diet & What Does it Involve?
The low-fat way of eating started out being recommended as far back as the 1930s and 1940s, as studies started to show a correlation between a low fat intake and lower levels of cholesterol and heart disease, along with greater life expectancies.
This led doctors to promote low-fat diets to overweight patients.
By the 1960s, low-fat diets began to gain more exposure and were recommended not just for overweight folk and for heart disease patients, but for the general population as a whole.
They really took a grip by the 1980s, with public health figures such as Dean Ornish, T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn pushing low-fat diets on the world.
Nowadays, plenty of those looking to lose weight and get lean still follow low-fat guidelines and look to cut fats as much as possible.
What Can You Eat?
As the name suggests, anything low in fat is okay.
That means basing your diet around grains like bread, rice, pasta and cereals (preferably whole-grain,) fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses.
It’s no surprise that low-fat diets often go hand in hand with vegetarian recommendations too, as many low-fat proponents are also of the belief that eating any animal products can lead to the development of diseases.
If your low-fat plan doesn’t have this as an addition however, then you can have small amounts of lean animal proteins, such as low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese and yoghurt, skimmed milk, skinless chicken or turkey, and extra lean red meat.
Clearly, high-fat junk foods such as burgers, fries, pizzas and ready meals are off the menu, but certain more natural foods are also banned, or at least limited.
These will include oils and butters, nuts, seeds and avocados, due to their higher fat content.
What Would a Typical Day Look Like?
- A bowl of wholegrain cereal with skimmed milk or soy milk, topped with berries, served with a fruit salad on the side, and possibly some whole-grain toast with low-fat spread too.
- A whole-grain bagel or sandwich with plenty of salad, lean ham (if your low-fat plan allows meat) with more fruit on the side.
- A grilled chicken breast (or a meat-free substitute such as soy or tofu) with brown rice, and lots of stir fried or grilled vegetables.
- Low-fat chips/ crisps
- Cottage cheese
- Cereal bars
Cutting back on your fats is an easy way to cut calories.
Fat is the most energy dense of the 3 macronutrients, containing 9 calories per gram, compared to the 4 calories per gram in carbs and protein.
Therefore, by getting rid of foods like butter, cheese and oil from your diet, you’re automatically reducing calories. And let’s face it – half the time you don’t even notice a taste difference between low-fat cheese and regular stuff, or 20% beef and the 5% stuff.
It’s also the case that the general public probably does eat too much fat. Plus, with all the fear mongering over carbs recently, at least low-fat diets don’t demonise carbohydrate.
Your body needs fat to function.
Fat plays an essential role in hormone production (particularly the sex hormones – testosterone and estrogen) and is also vital for organ function, recovery and insulation.
While it may be more calorie-dense, this can be a bonus too, particularly if you’re a hardgainer, and struggle to put on muscle; a glug of olive oil on every serving of vegetables, downing big glasses of full-fat milk, and eating peanut butter straight from the jar are all useful tactics to help any skinny newbie gain muscle fast.
Low-fat diets can also be high in calories, despite what many think.
Even though you’re skipping the high-fat foods, that doesn’t mean the calories from carbs don’t add up.
Have toast and cereal at breakfast, bread at lunch, pasta in the evening, and crackers, low-fat bars and even fruit for snacks, and you’re looking at a pretty high carb and calorie intake if you aren't tracking your intake closely enough.
Should You Do a Low-Fat Diet?
There is some science to suggest that lower fat diets work well when it comes to building and maintaining muscle, but really the only time your fat intake should ever dip underneath 0.3g per pound of body weight is for short periods in a bid to get contest lean.
If it doesn't suit your lifestyle though because you prefer fattier foods then it won't make much sense at all, because at the end of the day the diet that you can adhere the best to and remain most consistent on will be the one that is best for you.
If you function best on more fat and fewer carbs, then a low-fat diet is definitely not for you. But if you can skip the nuts and the avocados just fine, and love your bread and bananas, a low-fat diet may be the best choice.
Above all, get your calorie intake right, eat enough protein, then manipulate fat and carbs to suit your preferences.