When low fat = high sugar

PCOS BlogWhen you see the words “low-fat” on a food, do you assume that food is healthy? For many years fat was considered to be the main dietary contributor towards weight gain. But then something strange happened…foods started being manufactured with less fat, advertised as low-fat, and people started gaining weight, not losing weight.

What we know now is that in order to make a food low-fat, often other things are added in to preserve taste. Sugar is a common culprit of this; sugar is a type of carbohydrate, which means it is not listed on the Nutrition Facts Label as a fat. However, when your body has more sugar than it can use, it is stored as fat. This is especially problematic for women with PCOS who are extra sensitive to carbohydrates and may be inclined to purchase foods advertised as “healthy” or “low-fat” in order to lose or manage their weight.

Fat is not a nutrient that you should fear, even if you are trying to lose weight. It is essential for many functions in your body, and because it takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, fat will keep you feeling satisfied longer than sugar will.

Here are some situations when less fat might equal more sugar:

  • Light, low-fat, or fat-free salad dressing
  • Reduced-fat peanut butter
  • Reduced-fat cookies
  • Low-fat ice cream

Let’s take a closer look at peanut butter. The reduced fat version has these main ingredients: peanuts, corn syrup solids, sugar. Corn syrup is digested the same way as sugar, so basically by reducing the fat the company has added two different types of sugar. In contrast, the “all-natural” regular peanut butter has these main ingredients: peanuts, salt. Notice that there is no sugar listed. The regular peanut butter is higher in fat, but lower in sugar. It also has fewer ingredients, all of which are recognizable.

There are some types of products where low-fat or reduced-fat does not equal more sugar, such as milk and cheese. In these cases, depending on your health goals and the quantity you will be consuming, a lower-fat option might be the best choice. Remember though, you need some fat in your diet and when it comes to milk if you go completely “fat-free” you will not be absorbing the vitamins A and D that are added to milk. These are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning they need some fat in order to be absorbed by your body.

The best way to be an informed consumer is to read Nutrition Facts Labels. Don’t be afraid of fat, but be informed. You can see how much fat is in a product by reading the label to see how many grams of fat are in one serving. You can also see how many grams of sugar are listed under the heading “Carbohydrates.” As an informed consumer, there may be times when you decide to opt for food  choices that are higher in fat and lower in sugar.

– Dietitian Katrina