Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
Do you have diabetes and purchase low fat foods regularly? You may want to think twice, after you check out the foods on this list. Discover what you should look at instead on food labels.
It’s important to be aware that buying reduced fat or low fat foods is not always the best option when you have diabetes. Fats are not just caloric powerhouses, but also serve many chemical, physical, and nutritional functions in the foods we eat. Fat imparts flavour, enhances the appearance of food, helps to deliver fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamins A, E, D, and K, improves the texture of foods, and make it more satisfying.
To compensate for less fat in a food product, many manufacturers load up with other ingredients; such as sugar, salt, flour and fillers; in an attempt to improve the taste and texture of the food. This not only bumps up your caloric intake, but the food may be less satisfying, so you may end up eating more of it. Consuming high-sugar, high-salt foods on a regular basis can have significant implications for your blood sugar control, weight, blood pressure and ultimately your risk for diabetes related complications, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve and eye damage.
Some low fat foods can have a negative effect on your blood sugar level and weight.
Most low fat or reduced fat yogurts (including frozen yogurts), are packed with added sugars to compensate for less fat - in an attempt to enhance the taste and texture of the product. Regularly consuming a high intake of added sugars or having a large amount of added sugar in a small serving can spike your blood sugars and have an overall negative impact on your blood sugar management. Added sugars are empty calories and do not confer any nutritional benefits. Such empty calories can quickly add up, and make managing weight an added challenge for those with diabetes. An estimated 80% of persons with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, and higher body mass index in people with diabetes is linked with increased overall death and a higher risk of diabetes related complications. It’s important, therefore, to pay close attention to the food label, to check whether that little yogurt pot is as innocent and healthy as it seems.
2. Salad dressing
Those with diabetes often gravitate towards vegetables and salads as a means to control their weight and manage their blood sugar level. It’s important to realize that low fat salad dressings may not be as diabetes-friendly as they seem; fat serves to help keep us full and satisfied and also supports the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, found in salads. Adding a drizzle of some low fat dressings can easily load down a salad with extra sugar and sodium. The problem with most store bought low fat salad dressings is many of them contain added sugar, preservatives and extra sodium, to make up for less fat and improve palatability. A high intake of added sugars in a small serving can spike your blood sugars and lead to an increased intake of empty calories. Those with diabetes are encouraged to decrease the amount of sodium in their diet to help lower their blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure is critical to good diabetes management, to decrease risk for heart attack or stroke, both of which are common complications of diabetes. Therefore, being mindful of the amount of sodium in the diet can help many people with diabetes lower their blood pressure. I often advise my clients to make their own salad dressings using olive oil, lemon juice and their favourite herbs and spices. Homemade oil-free salad dressings are also a delicious way to enjoy wholesome plant-based foods; using vinegar and an array of fruits, herbs and spices.
Many of my clients opt for margarine because they’ve heard that it’s a better alternative to butter; which contains saturated fat. Current evidence indicates that those with diabetes should limit their intake of saturated fat, because it raises blood cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease especially for those with diabetes. Limiting intake of saturated fat, therefore, is an important strategy to help lower risk of heart attack or stroke. It’s important to be aware that margarine may contain salt as a means to enhance flavor, which may impact blood pressure control. Those with diabetes are encouraged to decrease the amount of sodium in their diet to help lower their blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure is critical to good diabetes management to decrease risk for heart attack or stroke, both of which are common complications of diabetes. Another issue with margarine, especially stick margarine, is that it may contain trans fat; regarded to be worse than saturated fat. Trans fat can raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL).
Instead of low fat, what should you look at instead on food labels?
Reviewing the nutrition facts label and the ingredients list is necessary to make quick, informed food choices that help to support a healthy diet when you have diabetes. A good place to start is the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Then compare the serving size on the package to the amount that you eat. Eating more than the serving on the package means you’re getting more calories and carbohydrates. When buying packet foods, opt for ones with less calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and avoid trans fat altogether. Be mindful to choose foods with more fiber. Adding more fiber to one’s diet confers many health benefits for those with diabetes, including controlling blood sugar, managing blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol, feeling more satisfied, controlling weight and regulating bowel movement. A food product regarded to be an excellent source of fiber should contain 5 grams or more per serving, while a good source of fiber containing 2.5 - 4.9 grams per serving. Look at the sugar content on the nutrition label. Bear in mind that this number includes both added sugar and naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in milk. You can refer to the ingredients list to get more information to make an informed decision. Remember, sugar listed on the label does not include sugar alcohols that are in the product. If a food package doesn’t list sugar alcohols on the label, review the ingredient list for items that end in "ol" like maltitol or sorbitol.
What other low fat foods do you include in your diet?
Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.