Stop Buying 'Low-Fat' Snacks, Because It Isn’t 1992

Drew Swantak/Thrillist
Drew Swantak/Thrillist

If there’s anything to be learned from living through the era of Ross Perot and dial-up Internet, it’s that some things are best left in the past. The low-fat-everything craze is definitely one of those things, yet somehow, it persists.

It’s not just that the low-fat trend makes foods taste worse; in many cases, the supposedly healthier options wind up being worse for your health. Here’s why those low-fat cookies aren’t doing you any favors.

Flickr/Classic Film

Why the fight against fat?

Fat: people love it! But in the ‘80s and ‘90s the US government recommended a diet low in fat and high in starch. The theory? Less fat leads to a healthier heart, a lower risk of cancer, and a trimmer waistline.

So fat was Public Enemy No. 1, but since a life without chips and cookies is pretty damn depressing, low-fat alternatives made their way into the market. Unfortunately, the truth is that the relationship between dietary fat and disease is a bit more complex than originally thought, a mistake that unleashed horrors like WOW! chips on the world. And yet, the low-fat industry marches on.

Drew Swantak/Thrillist

Maybe you’re eating too much?

Part of the reason low-fat foods have such widespread appeal is because fat does pack quite a caloric punch. Each bite of fat has almost double the calories as the same-sized bite of carbs or protein, say Lyssie Lakatos and Tammy Lakatos Shames, co-owners of The Nutrition Twins, regardless of whether you’re getting it from an avocado or from bacon. Or a bacon-avocado club, mmm...

Anyway, racking up a major calorie count is totally possible and could, over time, lead to packing on pounds. But before you quit your guacamole habit (that’s a good fat!), know this: the problem’s not the fat per se. It’s how much of it you’re eating. Filling up on too much of any kind of food is going to lead to weight gain. So let’s get rid of the belief that cutting out fat alone will help you lose weight. Just don’t eat 100 granola bars in a single sitting, no matter what kind they are.

Besides, recent research debunked the myth of the low-fat diet as a comprehensive weight-loss plan. As it turns out, keeping fat off your plate is no more effective than any other type of diet.


Low-fat labels: they trick you!

While reduced-fat packaged foods may have a lower fat content, the low-fat label dupes you into thinking it’s OK to have more because you think it’s not as bad for you, says Lakatos. Research suggests that you’re not only likely to underestimate the number of calories in foods with low-fat labels, but you also may think the serving size should be bigger and feel less guilty about eating it. Marketing wizardry at its finest!

The thing to remember is that if you’re talking about something like whoopie pies or Fudgsicles, you’re still eating junk, and it still has calories -- in some cases, even more than the full-fat versions. That’s because...

Flickr/tracy benjamin

Less fat means worse filler

The food industry plays a little game of give-and-take to produce low-fat packaged foods. Sure, some of the fat gets axed, but a fatty food that’s missing this component is going to be less tasty without it. Because, as you may have heard, fat is flavor. 

That’s where sugar, salt, and starch come in. These ingredients are sometimes added to low-fat packaged foods to improve the taste and texture, says Lakatos Shames. So removing some of the fat doesn’t necessarily make the food any healthier, and may actually make it less healthy.

Flickr/Eloise L

Fat keeps you full, and low-fat snacks keep you eating

Seriously. One of the major things fat has going for it is that it can keep you fuller, and for longer. That’s because it takes six to eight hours for your body to digest it, compared with only two to four to digest carbs. It takes even less time to digest sugar, explains Lakatos Shames. Take fat out of the equation, and your body’s going to blaze through the carbs and sugar, pronto. That means it’s only a matter of time before the hunger pangs send you straight to the pantry for round two (or three...).

And, let’s be real, do you really want to buy that pint of low-fat ice cream? Go for the real deal. It’s healthier.

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Alexandra Duron is a freelance writer for Thrillist and now basically wants all the snacks. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @alexduron.