The Role of Fat Replacers in a Healthy Diet

Does reduced fat or fat free mean healthier? In the past, removing fat from products resulted in reduced flavor and loss of sales for the manufacturers. This spawned the introduction of a class of food additives called fat replacers or fat substitutes allowing manufacturers to offer salad and cooking oils, bakery products, ice cream and cheese with a flavor similar to full fat varieties, but without the cholesterol, calories, and fat of the original. It also spawned marketing campaigns to promote the health benefits of these reduced fat products.

Most fat substitutes are derived from other food ingredients such as starches, gums, and cellulose. They are generally classified as carbohydrate based, protein based, or fat based.

In most cases fat substitutes are considered safe although in some cases, such as with the fat based product Olestra which interferes with absorption of fat soluble vitamins, there are health implications when consuming these fat replacing products.

The main issue related to low fat or fat free products using these fat substitutes is that they imply low fat means better nutrition and fewer calories.  This is often not the case. Many reduced fat foods contain the same number of calories and much higher sugar levels that the full fat version of the same product.

This is an important consideration for those of us on Florida’s Gulf Coast trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy diet. Evidence suggest that reduced fat diet is healthier and reduces your risk for heart disease and that people who incorporate fat substitutes into their diets have slightly better nutrition than people who do not. However, you should pay particular attention to the overall nutrition profile of fat substitute containing foods and realize that low or no fat does not necessarily mean less calories and better nutrition with each bite.