MYTH: Fat-Free Is Always the Best Choice

Fat free sounds like it would be your best option, right? Well, that’s not always the case. Jillian Michaels gets to the bottom of this diet myth.

The Truth: Fat-free foods can be full of chemicals and may contain almost as many calories as their full-fat counterparts.

We hear so much bad news about fat that it makes sense you’d want to try to avoid it at all costs. In fact, I’m sure that at some point in your life, you’ve fallen for the fat-free food-label phenomenon. That’s why I want to take some time to really clear up this weight-loss myth. Just because the label says it’s “fat-free” doesn’t mean it’s low in calories OR that it’s good for you! I know food labels can be tricky and confusing, so let me break down why you should avoid fat-free foods — and tell you other tricks to look out for in the grocery aisles.

Some fat-free foods, with the exception of organic dairy products, are full of chemicals and can be bad for you. According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), “fat-free” foods must have less than .5 grams of fat per serving to use that label. Sounds good, except many of those foods can be higher in carbs than the full-fat versions and contain almost as many calories. Why? Because food manufacturers tend to add other fillers and chemical crap (like sugar, flour, thickeners, and salt) to make up for the lack of taste, nutrients, texture, and palatability. Fat-free cookies are a perfect example. Some fat-free cookies have more sugar and other sweeteners than cookies with 1 or 2 grams of fat that use more wholesome ingredients. Non-fat or fat-free dairy is okay as long as it’s organic, like organic skim milk or organic nonfat yogurt, be sure to always check the labels on these items.

Beware of sugar-free foods too. Many people assume that “sugar-free” means “carb-free,” but it does not. Compare the total carbohydrate content of a sugar-free food with that of the standard product. If there is a big difference, the sugar-free version might be worth buying IF it is made with a nontoxic sweetener like Stevia or Xylitol. Do not buy anything that contains artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda), though. If there is little or no difference in the carb content, choose the option with the most natural ingredients. Also, don’t confuse “sugar-free” with “no sugar added,” which means that sugar wasn’t added during processing or packaging — but that doesn’t mean the food is sugar-free.

Ideally, always choose the low-fat version of foods. According to the FDA and USDA, “low-fat” foods must have 3 grams of fat or less per serving. This is the best option because these foods aren’t filled with the same artificial sweeteners or fillers like sugar-free and fat-free foods can be, and they have less fat than the full-fat versions. Try to buy low-fat dairy products like low-fat organic yogurts, cottage cheese, or milk. Look for low-fat and low-sodium cold cuts, granola, breads, and more. If the low-fat food is unavailable, I’d rather you choose the full-fat version instead of the fat-free kind and just have a small amount. Though you may be consuming more calories with the full-fat version, you’re avoiding all of the chemicals in the fat-free option.

The Bottom Line: Fat-free foods are probably your worst choice in regard to your health. I want you to always choose the low-fat option, and if it’s not available, go for the full-fat food in a smaller quantity.

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