When “Fat-Free” is Not the Best Choice

Posted: October 1, 2013 in Blog, Nutrition
fat free sign

Fat suffers a bad rap. Our bodies are programmed to store extra food energy as fat, but we blame the fat when we become overweight.

But we need fat to live. Aside from needing the essential nutrients that it contains, our brains use fat, fat helps protect our vital organs and fat is the most efficient source of energy we have. Without fat, our bodies would start drawing energy directly from muscle tissue, the same muscles that need the energy in the first place – not a good scenario.

Never-the-less, the persecution of fat continues. We are all so pre-conditioned by the hype and fear of fat that, when we see “Fat-Free” on a food package, we automatically assume that whatever is in the package is the best option for us.

Of course, this is often true. Fat-free, low-sugar yogurt is generally a healthier alternative to full-fat versions. But “fat-free” does not always mean “the best choice”.

When “Fat-Free” is a Problem

The temptation of sure-fire sales from “fat-free” foods has lead many food manufacturers to unwittingly reduce or eliminate fat in foods where at least some fat is needed.

A prime example is salad dressing.

Even the simplest garden salad is chock-full of essential vitamins and minerals, and a nice dressing gives it great flavour.

The surprising news for those who automatically choose fat-free dressing is that our bodies need fat – like the essential fatty acids found in the plant oils used in salad dressing – to help absorb many of the valuable nutrients in salads.

In a 2004 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition detected only negligible amounts of many essential nutrients in the blood of subjects that had eaten a salad with fat-free dressing, while significantly more of those same nutrients were detected in the blood of those who ate a salad with fat-reduced and full-fat dressings.

But this is not an invitation to slather on the Blue Ranch next time you’re at the salad bar. It’s a case of “too much of a good thing” and too much dressing will quickly turn your salad into an explosion of calories. Also, you can get the fat needed to process the vegetable nutrients from other ingredients in your salad, like cheese.

Remember, each of us is different and any change in your diet can stress your system. It’s always best to consult a nutrition specialist to make sure you get everything your body needs for optimal health.