Are you searching for a healthier lifestyle but not sure where to find it? [looks behind the couch]
It may sound pretty retro, but the answer may lie in a low-fat diet plan.
Yes, this diet was popular in the day of dayglo leg warmers and acid wash jeans, but the basic foundation — ditching high-fat foods like cakes and pastries in favor of more health-promoting options like veggies and chicken — can work really well for some people.
Following a low-fat diet plan can make a ton of sense for weight loss, and it can also help improve your heart health and reduce your risk of other health conditions like diabetes and cancer.
This complete guide will take you through everything you need to know about the benefits of following a low-fat diet plan, so you get all the good stuff your body needs — and that your taste buds crave — just without the extra fat.
Ready to dive in? Let’s SIMPLify this bad boy!
- A low-fat diet can help you lose weight and improve your health.
- You can still enjoy delicious foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. (You might just need to learn some deliciousness-increasing skills.)
- Your heart will be happier without all those saturated and trans fats.
- It’s important to watch your intake of carbohydrates and sugars when following a low-fat diet plan.
- If you have any existing medical conditions, chat with a dietitian or doctor prior to beginning a low-fat diet plan to check it’s right for you.
What is a low-fat diet?
So, what exactly does a low-fat diet involve?
As you probably guessed, low-fat diet plans emphasize consuming foods low in fat, particularly saturated and trans fats. That means sticking to lean proteins, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
There are actually two types of low-fat diets:
- low fat, which means less than 30% of your daily calories come from fat
- very low fat, which drops your daily calories from fat to less than 10% (we really don’t recommend this)
To put that into context: Say you ate a 2000-calorie diet. Low fat would mean eating less than 66 g of fat daily, and very low fat would mean eating less than 22 g.
We suggest sticking to a low-fat diet, as a very low-fat diet can be hard to maintain and may cause nutritional deficiencies over time.
We know a low-fat style of eating can seem a bit, well, dull. If you’re thinking, “Dang it SIMPLE, fat’s the thing that makes everything taste good!” we hear you.
Yes, it does — but it’s not the only thing that can bring flavor to your plate and palate. There are plenty of ways to do that without all the extra calories that fat brings. (Hint: herbs, spices, and cookbooks are your friends.)
Part of embracing the low-fat lifestyle will be discovering some new favorite recipes and flavor-infusion skills along the way!
Don’t worry if you’re feeling a little lost with all this right now — we’ll talk you through everything you need to succeed.
How does a low-fat diet work?
Consuming too much fat in your diet can lead to weight gain and increase your risk of developing heart disease. By lessening the amount of fat you eat, you could lose / maintain your weight more easily and boost your health into the bargain.
Although a low fat diet can sound like a real killjoy, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods. That said, if your favorite foods are high fat, like burgers, fries, and ice cream, they won’t be everyday staples. But before you click away in disgust, know that these things are all true:
- You can make lower-fat versions of all your favorite foods.
- Over time, you’ll find new things you love to eat.
- No foods are ever off limits, so occasional high-fat foods will always be OK — and you get to call the shots on what “occasional” means for you.
You also don’t have to overhaul your entire diet overnight. It’s 100% OK to gradually lessen your intake of higher-fat foods and increase your intake of lower-fat foods.
In fact, this “slowly, slowly” approach works better than big, sweeping changes, so take it steady. Over time, aim to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less high-fat foods like cheese, butter, and chocolate.
Low-fat diet vs. low-carb diet
No discussion about low-fat diets is complete without highlighting the difference between low-fat and low-carb. Let’s take a closer look at how they compare.
A low-carb diet plan involves reducing foods high in carbohydrates, including bread, pasta, grains, cookies, and cakes. The goal is to encourage the body to use fat for energy instead of glucose, which can lead to weight loss and better overall health by maintaining blood sugar levels and lowering the risk of heart disease.
A low-fat diet, as we’ve seen, involves reducing foods that are high in fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and fried foods. The aim is to encourage your body to use the fat it has stored instead of dietary fat. This leads to many benefits, including weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease.
The choice between low-carb and low-fat diets is yours to make. Both can lead to positive results, and studies suggest there’s little difference between the two in terms of effectiveness.
Which one works best for you will be down to which style of eating you most enjoy.
A low-fat diet plan and schedule
When following a low-fat diet meal plan, focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products.
Shoot for a less frequent intake of ultra-processed and fried foods, like cakes, chips, bacon, etc. These tend to be higher in fat, sugar, and calories and lower in nutrients.
All this can feel a little abstract, we know. What foods fit into what categories? Let’s break it down.
Foods to eat on a low-fat diet meal plan
Most low-fat diet meal plans will include the following foods:
- Fruits and vegetables including berries, peas, and leafy greens
- Whole grains including brown rice, wholemeal pasta, and quinoa
- Lean proteins such as chicken, tofu, tempeh, tuna and other fish
- Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Healthy fats including nuts, seeds, and avocados in moderation
Foods to avoid on a low-fat diet meal plan
On a low-fat diet, these foods would be limited to “occasional use only”:
- Fried foods including fries and chicken nuggets
- Fatty cuts of meats such as ribeye steak and pork belly
- Processed meats including sausages and bacon
- Full-fat dairy products such as cheese, cream, and whole milk
- High-fat snacks like chips, cookies, and cakes
- Oils and fats like margarine, lard, and butter
- Sugary drinks such as soda, energy drinks, and fruit juices with added sugars
As a general rule of thumb, aim to eat every 3–4 hours and shoot for a lean protein source and some veggies at each meal.
This applies even if you’re following an intermittent fasting approach like intermittent fasting 16/8 or any other variation of time-restricted eating. (Though you might need to adjust the timing if you have a shorter eating window.)
Need a little help putting all this together? If so, we gotcha. Here’s how to write a boss meal plan. SIMPLE’s here to help you stick to that meal plan, too, with our helpful food tracker to make sure you’re crushing it. Take our SIMPLE quiz and get started today!
The low-fat diet and weight loss results
A low-fat diet could help you create the weight loss results you’re looking for.
By reducing your intake of high-calorie, fatty foods, you can more easily create that all-important calorie deficit. This means you’ll burn more calories than you consume, and your body will start using stored fat for energy, resulting in weight loss.
If you’re eager to know more about how to create a calorie deficit to burn fat, this will help. And, even though fat loss vs. weight loss isn’t the same thing, burning fat will reliably lead to weight loss.
Health benefits of the low-fat diet
Going low fat could net you more than weight loss. There are a number of ways this style of eating could benefit your health.
Lower risk of heart disease
A diet high in saturated fats or trans fats can clog your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. By cutting down on fat, you’ll be doing your heart a huge favor.
Your taste buds will thank you
Believe it or not, eating low fat doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of boring, bland food. In fact, going low fat could transform your taste buds!
By cutting out excess fat, you’ll be able to taste the natural flavors of your food more. Plus, if you’re open to using this as an opportunity to experiment with new recipes and ingredients, who knows what tasty delights you might find.
A speedier metabolism
Research shows that a low-fat diet plan can help shift your metabolism , possibly by making our bodies more sensitive to insulin, a hormone that helps our muscles take up more sugar from food.
Whilst more evidence is needed before we can get too excited, it’s certainly a welcomed extra.
Health risks of the low-fat diet
It’s worth also noting some of the risks of a low-fat approach.
You may miss out on important nutrients
Not all fats are unhealthy. Omega-3s, for instance, are essential for good health.
Be sure to include monounsaturated fats and omega-3-containing foods — like oily fish, nuts and seeds, and olive oil — in your low-fat diet plan, so you don’t become deficient in key nutrients like vitamins E and K.
Ideally, don’t go below 15% of your calories coming from fat.
You may feel more hungry
Fats are an important source of satiety, which means that they can help you feel full and satisfied after a meal. Without enough fat in your diet, you might find yourself feeling hungry and craving comfort foods.
You might not see the results you want
While reducing your intake of unhealthy fats can help you lose weight, it’s important to remember that calories still matter.
If you consume more calories than you burn, you won’t see the results you want, regardless of whether you’re following a low-fat diet plan or not.
You might develop an unhealthy relationship with food
Following a strict diet can sometimes lead to disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy relationship with food.
Remember that food is not just fuel but also a source of pleasure and enjoyment.
Pros and cons of a low-fat diet
|Weight loss||Increased risk of nutrient deficiencies|
|Reduced risk of heart disease||Increased risk of depression and anxiety|
|Improved cholesterol levels||Limited food choices|
|Better digestion||Increased hunger and cravings|
|Reduced risk of certain cancers||Difficult to sustain|
Following a low-fat diet plan has several possible benefits, such as weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease, improved cholesterol levels, better digestion, and reduced risk of certain cancers (including bowel and colon).[12,13]
However, there are some potential drawbacks to a low-fat diet plan, including an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, limited food choices, increased hunger and cravings, increased risk of depression and anxiety, and difficulty sticking to the diet long term.[14,15]
Is a low-fat diet right for you?
So, you’re thinking of jumping on the low-fat diet bandwagon? Well, hold those horses — before you ride off into the sunset together, let’s see if low fat is the right partner for you.
First things first, low-fat diets aren’t for everyone.
Sure, they can help you shed some pounds and reduce your risk of certain illnesses, but if you have specific nutritional needs or a medical condition, chat with your doctor or dietitian before making any changes.
And let’s not forget about sustainability.
If you’re not someone who enjoys snacking on carrot sticks and rice cakes, then a low-fat diet plan may feel like a struggle. (Although you could become this person with a little time and practice if you wanted to.)
You may find yourself better suited to other dietary methods like intermittent fasting. If you’re curious about that, check out our intermittent fasting for beginners guide.
Here’s the bottom line about low fat:
It’s no more effective than any other popular diet like low carb, Mediterranean, keto, or paleo when it comes to losing weight.
If you like the sound of it, try it. You may thrive! If not, no worries. There are loads of other ways to improve your eating habits and hit your goals.
Try our SIMPLE quiz, and we can help you try some new things. Maybe you’ll fall in love with intermittent fasting. Or use our food tracker to increase your awareness of your food choices. Or simply read some of our articles to understand how to build new habits, how stress might be holding you back, or how to squash emotional eating.
5 tips to get started on a low-fat diet
If you’re excited and ready to get going with a low-fat diet plan, here are five key tips to help:
- Read food labels
Three top tips here:
- Start paying attention to the fat content of the foods you eat.
- Avoid processed foods that are high in saturated fat and trans fat.
- Choose either low-fat or fat-free options with less than 3 g of fat per serving.
- Get in your healthy fats
While you’re minimizing unhealthy fats, remember that your body still needs fat to function. Get in your unsaturated fats like omega-3s by eating oily fish up to a couple times a week, cooking with a little olive oil, and snacking on a small handful of nuts.
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables
These sorts of foods are naturally low in fat and packed with nutrients. Aim to make them the foundation of your meals.
- Choose lean protein sources
Lean protein sources like chicken, turkey, fish, low-fat yogurt, milk, and legumes are wonderful choices for a low-fat diet. Avoid fatty cuts of meat and processed meats like bacon and sausage.
- Plan your meals
Planning your meals ahead of time can help you stick to your diet. Find some time during your week to sit down; plan some breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; and make your grocery list!
SIMPLE’s expert opinion and final thoughts
A low-fat diet can be a healthy choice for many people. It’s important, however, to be mindful that not all fats are bad and that balance is crucial for overall health.
While a reasonably low-fat diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease and other health conditions, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Chat with your doctor or dietitian before making significant changes to your diet.
That being said, for some a low-fat diet can be a great way to improve health and well-being, and it’s a solid choice for those looking to make positive changes to their lifestyle.
If you’re thinking about trying it out, high five! Making any sort of dietary change can be tough, so kudos on wading into the often choppy waters of the unknown. (We think you’ll do great, by the way. We just have a feeling.)
If you feel low fat isn’t for you, though, no worries. You got options! Intermittent fasting is one. If you’d like a hand figuring out fasting, take our SIMPLE quiz. We can walk you through getting started and stick with you through those first few weeks (or however long you’d like).
Frequently asked questions about the low-fat diet plan
What should you eat on a low-fat diet?
On a low-fat diet, you should eat a broad range of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
Aim to limit your intake of ultra-processed and high-fat foods like chips, cookies, and candy.
What can I eat for breakfast that is low in fat?
There are lots of things you can eat for a breakfast that is low in fat. Try oatmeal, fresh fruit, yogurt, or whole grain toast with a light spread like margarine.
Eat the high-fat options like bacon or croissants less often. Although they’re not low in fat, higher protein foods like eggs or nut butters can help you keep you fuller throughout the morning.
Are bananas good for a low-fat diet?
Bananas are a good food for a low-fat diet as they are naturally low in fat and high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Variety is valuable, though, so aim to include other types of fruits like berries, too.
Can I have cheese on a low-fat diet?
You can have cheese on a low-fat diet, but it depends on the type and amount you eat. Look for cheeses that are naturally lower in fat, such as ricotta or feta, and aim for a portion no bigger than the size of a small matchbox.
What foods should be avoided on a low-fat diet?
Instead of thinking about what foods should be avoided on a low-fat diet, focus more on eating whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Small steps and swaps for the win!
What intermittent fasting methods do you recommend?
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- Kahleova H, Petersen KF, Shulman GI, Alwarith J, Rembert E, Tura A, et al. Effect of a Low-Fat Vegan Diet on Body Weight, Insulin Sensitivity, Postprandial Metabolism, and Intramyocellular and Hepatocellular Lipid Levels in Overweight Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Nov 2;3(11):e2025454.
- Bracci EL, Keogh JB, Milte R, Murphy KJ. A comparison of dietary quality and nutritional adequacy of popular energy-restricted diets against the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and the Mediterranean Diet. Br J Nutr. 2022 Oct 14;128(7):1357–70.
- Park S, Ahn J, Lee BK. Very-low-fat diets may be associated with increased risk of metabolic syndrome in the adult population. Clin Nutr. 2016 Oct;35(5):1159–67.
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