Fat is an essential macronutrient, but too much fat is detrimental to health. A low-fat diet has many health benefits. Healthy cooking methods and smart decisions when eating out can support a low-fat diet.
According to Medline Plus, fat is essential for controlling inflammation, blood clotting, brain development, energy, healthy skin and hair, and absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat comes in three forms: unsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fat. Unsaturated fats include fat from olive and vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and fish. Saturated and trans fats are in butter, lard, cream, shortening, margarine, partially hydrogenated oils, coconut and palm oil, chicken skin and fat from meat. Unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated and trans fats because they can actually help prevent heart disease. Federal dietary guidelines recommend that less than 30 percent of daily calories come from fat and that less than 10 percent come from saturated fat.
Fat is high in calories, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says consuming too many calories causes weight gain and obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, liver and kidney disease, stroke, immobility and problems breathing and sleeping. A low-fat diet supports a steady weight and can prevent weight gain because it is lower in calories than a high-fat diet. A low-fat diet supports weight loss and generally limits all types of fat because weight loss requires a reduction in total calories.
The USDA says too much fat, especially saturated and trans fats, contributes to the collection of fat in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. A low-fat diet not only reduces the risk of heart disease, but also actually protects the body because naturally low-fat foods tend to be high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. According to the USDA, fiber can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Antioxidants prevent diseases such as cancer by destroying harmful chemicals called free radicals.
Naturally low-fat foods include fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean proteins. Examples of lean proteins include skinless chicken breast, lean ground beef or turkey, pork tenderloin, fish, shellfish, eggs and soy products. Naturally fat-free, low-calorie beverages include water, 100 percent fruit juice, unsweetened tea, black coffee and diet soda.
High-fat foods are ones that are made with a lot of saturated and trans fats such as fast foods, processed foods, snack foods, mayonnaise, creamy salad dressings, whipped cream, gravy made from meat drippings, cream soups, ice cream and chocolate. Milkshakes, blended coffee drinks and alcoholic dessert drinks are examples of beverages that can be high in fat.
Grilling, broiling, poaching, boiling, steaming and roasting are low-fat cooking methods that use little or no oil or butter. When eating out, the American Dietetic Association suggests requesting salad dressings, dipping sauces and mayonnaise on the side because these tend to be high in fat and calories. Ordering coffee with fat-free or skim milk, getting steamed vegetables instead of sautéed vegetables and sticking to clear broths instead of creamy soups will also help reduce the fat in a diet. Removing visible fat and skin from meat and poultry will significantly reduce saturated and total fat.