A low-fat diet is as the name suggests, low in fat. The eating pattern is also typically high in carbohydrates, with moderate protein. DNAfit will recommend a low-fat diet if you present with a high to very high sensitivity towards saturated fats, in conjunction with a low to very low sensitivity towards carbohydrates.
A low-fat diet should contain about 50 - 60% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein and the remaining 20 - 30% from fats. It is very important with a low-fat diet to differentiate between the types of fats since fat sensitivity specifically links to saturated fats. With a high sensitivity to fats, you are more likely to see weight gain and increases in cholesterol levels when your saturated fat intake exceeds 5-6% of your daily calories.
What are the different types of fats?
Ideally, within the 20-25% of your calories that can come from fat, the majority should be beneficial unsaturated fats. Here is what you need to know:
Unsaturated fats are considered “heart-healthy” and can be further divided into mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats include the fats found in avocado, olives, nuts and nut butters. They should ideally make up at least half of your fat intake.
Polyunsaturated fats should then make the remainder of your fat intake. These fats are essential fatty acids, which means they cannot be produced in the body. This is why it is important to include them, even in a low-fat diet. Polyunsaturated fats are subdivided into omega 3’s (walnuts, flaxseeds and pink / oily fish) and omega 6’s (vegetable oils and seeds). It’s important to remember that omega 3’s assist in reducing inflammation, whereas omega 6’s are pro-inflammatory and shouldn’t be included in excess. Because omega 6’s are acquired through a variety of sources, it is usually easy to meet your requirements. It is important to make a concerted effort to include more omega 3’s however, and how much omega 3 you require is dependent on your DNAfit results - anywhere between 1.6g – 3g per day.
Saturated fats are non-essential fats. This means it is not essential for us to include them in our diet. Saturated fats are found predominantly in:
- Animal fats (red meat, poultry skin, full-fat dairy products, eggs, cream, butter, ghee and lard)
- Tropical oils (coconut products, coconut oil and palm kernel oil)
- Hidden saturated fats (milk powders, tea and coffee creamers, ice-cream)
If you have a genetic high saturated fat sensitivity, you should be limiting saturated fat to a maximum of 5-6% of your daily calories. Because fat is so calorie-dense this is very little in reality and is often easily exceeded through hidden sources and animal products. For this reason, those with a high saturated fat sensitivity should avoid tropical oils and animal fats for cooking, choose low-fat dairy, and eat lean meat.
Trans fats are created during the process of hydrogenating and heating oils and are also non-essential. These fats should be limited to 1% or less of total calories, regardless of fat sensitivity. Examples of trans fats are hydrogenated fats (hard/brick margarine) and any foods prepared in these fats (baked goods, pastries, chips, crisps), as well as heating oils to very high temperatures (frying, deep-frying, roasting, grilling etc.).
An example of the low fat diet in action
Below we have calculated a low-fat meal plan to give you an idea of what a low-fat diet would look like for a day.
Remember that fat can help you feel full, so if you follow a low-fat diet use lean protein and fibre to help fill you up. Poultry, fish, extra-lean red meat, and pulses are good protein choices. For carbs, fill up on fruit, vegetables and whole-grains. Low-fat dairy alternatives such as skimmed milk, cottage cheese and yoghurt are also filling options.
Peanut butter, Baked Apple and Chia Seed Oats
½ - 1 cups cooked rolled oats
1 diced and baked apple
2 tablespoons sugar free peanut butter
2 – 4 tablespoons chia seeds
1 cup home-made popcorn
1 medium low GI fruit (orange / pear / peach)
Rye chicken salad open sandwich
2 – 3 slices pumpernickel / rye kernel bread
2 cups diced tomato, cucumber and onion
60 – 90g baked chicken
2 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise drizzled over the chicken
1 teaspoon low fat margarine to spread on the bread (optional)
2 – 3 high fibre crackers
¼ cup dried fruit (cranberries / raisins / apricots)
Baked Mackerel Roast Vegetables and Bulgur Wheat Salad
1 cup bulgur wheat
½ cup roasted pumpkin
1 cup baked zucchini, red peppers, onion
90 – 120g baked mackerel
2 teaspoon olive oil used for cooking
A low fat diet and your health
A case for the low-fat diet
The low-fat diet has been shown to be an effective diet for healthy weight control. A meta-analysis conducted in 2015 combined the results from 12 randomised controlled studies and used data from over 1000 subjects to determine the effectiveness of vegetarian diets on weight loss. The research showed that participants on vegetarian diet groups lost significantly more weight than those following a non-vegetarian diet. What’s more, the weight loss results were even more significant for those on a vegan diet than on a vegetarian diet.
What does this have to do with a low-fat diet? Well, vegetarian diets are usually quite low in fat, especially saturated fat. Furthermore, because of the complete removal of animal products, vegan diets are even lower in fat and tend to be quite high in carbohydrates. The research on vegetarian diets certainly provides some compelling evidence for a low-fat diet.
Unfortunately, nutrition can be complicated, and the research regarding low-fat diets is conflicting. A study conducted in 2018 on over 600 participants with diabetes showed no significant differences in weight loss or insulin sensitivity following a low carb or low-fat diet. And while a 2015 meta-analysis found that both low fat and low carb diets result in weight loss, the low carb diet was associated with slightly more weight loss.
With all the conflicting research, it can certainly be difficult to choose the best eating pattern for you. It’s important to remember that a lot of the variation in research comes down to individual differences, including genetics.
Slight differences in specific genes can change your sensitivity towards fat – especially saturated fats. This can affect how your body absorbs, transports and metabolises fat, and to what degree fat will affect your cholesterol and risk of weight gain. For example, those with the risk version of the APOA2 gene are at a high risk of being obese if they eat a diet high in saturated fat. Those with the lower risk version of these genes, on the other hand, are not as likely to be obese, even if they follow a high-fat diet.
The APOA2 gene is just one of many genes that can indicate your sensitivity towards saturated fat and help you decide if a low-fat diet is for you. DNAfit looks at a range of genes to provide insights into how your body responds not only to saturated fats, carbohydrates, and also micronutrients. This helps you understand what healthy nutrition looks like for you so you can use that knowledge to reach your goals faster!
Now that you're armed with the knowledge on all things low-fat, it's time to embark on the journey to discover your fat-sensitivity. Take a Health Fit test today!