Low Fat Diet

Author, Frank W. Jackson MD
Updated 2014

Introduction

Fat, also known as lipid, is a necessary part of good nutrition, especially the monosaturated, unsaturated, and vegetable types. However, there are certain conditions where the total amount of fat should be reduced significantly. In these cases, one must consider carefully all the foods ingested as many, especially the processed and prepared foods, may contain a significant amount of fat. Read the food labels, as the fat content of the food, will be listed there. Check with your physician as to the total recommended number of grams of fat that should be ingested each day. The following are the major disorders where a low-fat diet may be warranted.

Gallbladder Disease

The gallbladder sits within the right upper abdomen. On occasion, gallstones will form in the gallbladder. At other times, the gallbladder just does not contract properly. Ingested fat stimulates the gallbladder to contract more than with non-fat foods and this may produce discomfort when the gallbladder is diseased. This contraction could increase the possibility of pushing small gallstones out into the main bile duct causing serious problems. In either case, a reduction in fats and oils is recommended.

Delayed Stomach Emptying

This condition is known medically as gastroparesis. It can be caused by a number of medical conditions, diabetes being a common one. Certain medications also can delay the emptying of the stomach. Often, there is no cause found. When the stomach does not empty properly, bloating, belching and reflux of acid can occur. Fat or oil in any form, animal or vegetable, delays normal stomach emptying. With gastroparesis, the delayed emptying can be thereby aggravated, so a reduction of the fats in the diet may be needed.

Malabsorption of Food and Nutrients

There are a number of medical conditions where the small intestine does not function satisfactorily and food nutrients are not absorbed well. Celiac sprue, malabsorption, intestinal infections and pancreatic disease are some of them. Another cause is surgical removal of a large portion of the small bowel. Under these circumstances, fat and oil in the diet can make symptoms, such as diarrhea, worse. Of course, the physician will want to identify the cause of diarrhea and correct it if possible. Until then, a reduction in dietary fat can be helpful.

Special Considerations

  • Select lean pieces of meat and poultry. Trim away the visible fat.
  • Baking, steaming or broiling is preferable to frying in oils or butter.
  • Avoid all deep fried foods.
  • Use spray vegetable oils such as PAM for cooking so as to use the least amount of fat possible.
  • Select low fat or fat free foods and beverages.
  • Read labels carefully. Fat is hidden in many prepared products. Fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables, are usually preferable to processed or packaged items.

Food Groups

  • Milk and milk products – Avoid whole, 2% or even 1% fat milk, sour cream, non-dairy creamers, and cheeses unless they contain no or low-fat.
  • Breads, grains, baked foods – There is almost always some fat in all baked goods. This is particularly true with muffins, biscuits, doughnuts, cakes, granola and snacks such as potato and corn chips. In general, these should be avoided. Read the labels of packaged or boxed goods.
  • Vegetables – Avoid fried vegetables or those prepared with cream, cheeses, butter or dips.
  • Fruits – Avocados have a significant amount of vegetable oil. Otherwise, most fruits have very little fat.
  • Meat, poultry, fish – Select low-fat items. Trim visible fat or skin. Hot dogs and all processed meats such as luncheon meats, sausage, corned beef, bacon, pork and beef ribs should be avoided. Certain fish such as blue, salmon, mackerel and swordfish are high in fat. These are generally very good from an overall health standpoint, but with a low fat diet, they need to be used sparingly.
  • Soups – Avoid creamed or thick soups. When using stock such as beef or chicken, defat the liquid before using.
  • Oils, butter – Olive, canola, saffron or any vegetable or liquid animal fat such as lard and butter are obvious offenders and should be used in very low amounts.
  • Nuts – Most nuts have significant quantities of fat. These will add to the total fat intake each day.

Summary

Dietary fat is normally needed by the body in certain amounts. The fats from plant foods are preferable to those from animal sources. With a low fat diet, one needs to check almost every food for its fat content. Generally, a well-balanced diet can be structured even with a low fat diet.