One of the biggest myths is that if a food is fat-free it doesn't make you fat. Or, even better, that it makes you slim. While it definitely makes for enticing packaging and alluring marketing, we now know they aren't a golden ticket to weight loss. In fact, they can keep you from reaching those New Year's resolutions.
Filling up with Fillers: Eating fats help us prevent overeating by stimulating the release of leptin and CCK -- hormones in the brain that tell us when we're full. If our meals are devoid of fat, our brain takes much longer to give the "stop eating" signal. Remember, fat adds both flavour and texture (just consider whole eggs versus egg whites). You remove the fat, but end up needing to boost the carbs, sodium, sugar and starch to compensate -- making the food become more and more processed. Not a good recipe for weight loss (or health, for that matter). For example, take a look at full-fat mayonnaise versus low-fat mayonnaise. In the latter, a few ingredients have been added to fill the flavour gap: high fructose corn syrup and/or corn starch. So while you're watching your fat intake and cutting calories, you're packing on pounds and sending your cravings through the roof.
Creeping Up the Calories: When in doubt, look at the nutrition label and serving size. Some foods may be considered fat-free in tiny portions, but if you eat a larger amount, even that small bit of fat per serving adds up. In other cases, the full-fat version and the low-fat alternative contain a similar number of calories. Low-fat ice cream, for example, has 80 calories per scoop, whereas the full-fat version is only 95 calories.
Companies simply add sugar and vegetable gums to low-fat ice creams to make up for the lack of taste and volume. In fact, eating a diet that's lower in carbs, not lower in fats, is the best way to lose weight. In a 2010 study, researchers found obese women with insulin resistance lost more weight after three months on a lower-carbohydrate diet than on a traditional low-fat diet with the same number of calories. In truth, you need fat to burn fat. Research from the Washington University School of Medicine showed that old fat stored around the belly, thighs or butt cannot be burned off effectively unless we have new fat coming in from our diet or our liver. So clearly, fat-free bellies don't always equal fat-free bodies.
Low in Fat, But Poor in Health: Just as an excess of something can cause problems, so will a deficiency. If you avoid fat like the plague you may find yourself suffering from dry skin, eczema, low energy, slow wound or infection healing, vision and learning problems, depression, and a raging appetite.
Removing "good" fats from your diet can also negatively affect your cholesterol and hormone levels, since fats are a necessary building block of these essential compounds. In fact, all the cells in your body are made up fats, which will be composed of good fats or bad fats. If the cells are made up of healthy fats, it will make them more sensitive to insulin (less insulin = less bodyfat) and allow the receptors to bind more easily. This allows the glucose to enter the cell and get burned as fuel. Lipid layers made of unhealthy fats lead to unhealthy cells and greater insulin resistance (and higher levels of bodyfat).
Focus on the Right Fats Versus No Fats: Recently the nutrition experts from Harvard encouraged the public to steer away from "low-fat" thinking and terminology, and focus on cutting out trans fats and eating healthy fats instead. Use this handy chart below to help you:
LOOK: 10 of the healthiest (and tastiest) snacks to munch on in between meals
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Edamame is full of <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56288">protein and fibre.</a> <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> Buy frozen edamame beans and keep them in your office freezer, says registered dietician <a href="http://www.eatingforenergy.com/">Diana Steele of Eating For Energy in Vancouver, B.C.</a> Pop them in the microwave and add cherry tomatoes for a quick and wholesome snack.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Cucumber is packed with vitamin K (needed for strong bones) and low-fat cheese is full of calcium. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> Steele recommends making mini cucumber sandwiches by taking low-fat cheese and turkey and wedging them in between two slices of cucumbers — the kids will also love this one.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Low calories and tons of fresh fruit. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> Start a smoothie club at work. Steele recommends having one person make smoothies at the office for everyone in the club once a week. Keep this role rotating and try flavours like mixed berries and tropical fruit.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Apples can <a href="http://www.besthealthmag.ca/eat-well/nutrition/15-health-benefits-of-eating-apples">boost your immune system</a> and natural peanut butter is full of protein. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> Dip sliced apple pieces in plain Cheerios for a crunchy snack.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Eaten in portions, homemade trail mix can be <a href="http://www.myfitnesstrainer.com/free_fitness_library/p112/trail_mix_healthy.php">packed with fibre,</a> according to MyFitnessTrainer.com. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> For kids, Steele recommends making a homemade trail mix with seeds and dried fruits (avoid nuts because of allergies) and for yourself, add in popcorn or even whole wheat pretzels.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> When made at home, muffins are low in fat and packed with healthy oats and dried fruits or vegetables. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> No, we're not talking about the store-bought kind or the sugary ones you pick up from a bakery. If you still want to snack on muffins, Steele suggests making a batch of zucchini pumpkin muffins. <a href="http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=1324023">Check out a recipe here</a>.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> If you are buying tortillas from the store, avoid ones with excessive salt, sugar and corn, according LiveStrong.com. For the most part, homemade tortillas are not as bad as the store-bought kind. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> Take a whole wheat tortilla and spread almond butter on top. For an extra nutritional boost, wrap it around an banana. This is the perfect afternoon snack, Steele says.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Greek yogurt is a great source of <a href="http://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/961123/health-benefits-of-greek-yogurt"> calcium, protein and probiotics</a> (which is good for your digestive system), according to SheKnows.com. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> Mix berries or granola with a cup of sugar-free Greek yogurt, Steele says.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Apples in general have been known to <a href="http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/is-applesauce-healthy.html#b">prevent types of cancer and sugar-free apple sauce is a great fibre booster</a> in the morning, according to FitDay.com. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> Sprinkle crushed graham crackers over sugar-free apple sauce.
<strong>THE GOOD NEWS:</strong> Forget butter and salt, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/30/healthy-popcorn-recipes_n_1242564.html">making popcorn in an old-fashioned pot over the stove with seasoning and a touch of oil can actually be a healthy snack</a>. <strong>SNACK TIP:</strong> For a good evening snack, mix over-the-stove popcorn with flax seed oil and a bit of your favourite seasoning.
Follow Natasha Turner, ND on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drnatasha