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Should I Choose Full-Fat, Low-Fat or Fat-Free?

For the longest time, choosing low-fat options was the obvious choice, be it milk, yoghurt, cheese or butter. Cut the unnecessary fats and still get the calcium and protein you need. Sounds logical, right? Read on to find out why a chorus of experts are now proving otherwise.

What’s the difference?

  • Full-fat or whole-fat foods mean that they contain all the fat naturally present in the food, with no fat removed or added.
  • Low-fat foods mean that they must have 3g of fat or less per serving.
  • Fat-free foods mean that they must have less than 0.5g of fat per serving.

Why fat-free isn’t all it sounds to be?

Fat gives texture, volume and taste to foods. When fat is removed from a food product, something else has to be added into that food to make up for the reduced fat content. More often than not, the something else include sugar, thickeners, flour and salt. Certainly doesn’t sound like a healthy trade off to me. We may tend to eat more of these low-fat versions because they are lighter and less satiating. This inevitably results in unnecessary intake of calories.

Why full-fat may be healthier?

A recent review comparing health outcomes between those who habitually consumed full-fat versus those who had low-fat versions reported their findings – and they may not be what you’d expect. They found that people who consume full-fat dairy products were no more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease compared to those who stuck to low-fat dairy. None of the research suggested that low-fat dairy was better. The plausible reason for this is that people often tend to compensate for the missing fat and start loading up on carbohydrates, which the body converts into sugar and then body fat.

Which do I buy?

There is very little evidence to support that low-fat dairy foods are better than full-fat ones. So if you’re deciding between whole milk and low-fat (or skim) milk and other dairy products, existing research suggests that you are better off taking the full-fat version. Having said that, this by no means mean that you can have all the full-fat dairy you want. Do keep in mind that dairy fat is calorie-dense so moderation is always key.

if you are lactose-intolerant, no worries, you are not forgotten - check out these four high calcium alternatives to milk.


To keep yourself in check, here are three tips to help you whether you're selecting foods from the store or planning your meals:

  • Take a minute to read the labels – check the serving size, calories and sugars per serving. Tip: If you are compared between two or more products, look at the calories and sugar per 100g of serving for easy comparison.
  • Your servings add up - If you eat three servings of low-fat ice-cream, say it has 4g of fat and 200 calories per serving, that comes up to a whooping 12g of fat and 600 calories! So we say that it’s better to eat one serving of a satisfying whole-fat food, which may be 6g of fat and 230 calories and stay clear of the additional calories and sugar in the low-fat alternatives.
  • Eat more fibre-rich foods – choose to consume more fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and wholegrains. These not only provide you with nutrients, from iron to vitamin Bs, the fiber keeps you full for longer, are naturally low in fat, no additives required and are usually lower in calories. So if you have a bag of baked potato chips in front of you, scurry off to the vegetable section and pick up a bag of real potatoes. Real foods are healthier options, anytime. For example, baked potatoes has more nutrients, fiber and fewer calories and free from all the nasty preservatives and synthetic chemicals.