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Low-Fat Foods Can Help Lower Fat Intake

By Judy McBride
October 1, 2001

Switching to foods that are lower in fat--such as lean meats, low-fat desserts or skim milk--can help cut your fat intake to the recommended 30 percent of total calories or less. But you need to watch your fat intake from other foods as well, an Agricultural Research Service study shows.

ARS nutritionist Shanthy Bowman and colleagues analyzed data from the 1996 USDA nationwide food consumption survey to determine the impact of low-fat foods on total fat intake. For comparison, they divided a sample of 1,731 adults into two groups--those who met the recommended fat intake and those who exceeded it.

While the majority of adults who exceeded the fat recommendation either didn’t consume low-fat foods on the survey day or ate only one or two, some of them ate three or more such foods. They simply got too many calories from fat in their total diet.

Among the group that met the recommended fat intake, a larger percentage consumed low-fat foods, showing that these foods can be helpful in reducing fat intake.

One doesn’t have to make many low-fat substitutions, according to Bowman. Just one or two will do, as long as people don’t add the fat back with other food choices, such as regular milk or cheese, untrimmed meats or high-fat dressings and spreads. Naturally low-fat fruits and vegetables are good choices because they are packed with fiber and nutrients.

The analysis also showed that consuming low-fat foods was associated with a more varied and nutritious diet among both groups. Men and women who chose low-fat foods--especially those who ate three or more daily--got more vitamin A, carotene, folate, calcium and iron than those who didn’t. Nonusers of low-fat foods tended to substitute carbohydrates and carbonated sodas to replace fat.

Not surprisingly, the men and women who met the recommended fat intake consumed fewer calories than those who exceeded it--400 to 500 less calories on average. And their body mass index (BMI) tended to be lower, especially among the women.

ARS is the chief scientific agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bowman works in Beltsville, Md., at the ARS Community Nutrition Research Group.