We’ve scoured the shelves to determine which low-fat foods are worth the money – and which could be damaging your health.
Most of us eat too much fat – especially saturated fat. Fat is rich in energy – with one gram of fat containing 37kJ (compared to just 16kJ for carbohydrates, or 17kJ for protein). Low-fat foods are often the healthy choice, if the food in question also shows a reduction in saturated fat. For example, the low-fat versions of most dairy products, are lower in ‘bad’ saturated fat, making them a better choice compared to full-fat dairy products.
But not all low-fat foods are worth your money. Some fats – ‘good’, unsaturated fats – are extremely important to maintaining your health, so choosing the low-fat versions of these products might not be the best option. Additionally, when fat is removed from a product, it can be replaced with other, less-than-desirable ingredients – like a lot of sugar, for example! With such a huge range of low-fat foods on offer, it’s important to have a closer look at the entire nutritional picture, including the total amount of kilojoules, in order to make wise low-fat choices.
So what is a low-fat food, anyway?
Legally, to qualify as a ‘low-fat’ food, a product must contain 3g or less fat per 100g, if a solid food, or less than 1.5g fat per 100mL, for liquids.
You may also see some products with claims like, ‘now with 50% less fat!’ These foods are not ‘low-fat’ foods – they’re known as ‘reduced-fat’ foods. Depending on the product, they may represent a good saving in both fat and kiljoules (but they can still be relatively high in both). To simplify matters, we’ve only looked at low-fat foods here – but we’ve also selected some outstanding reduced-fat products (see below).
For the winners (and losers), we’ve listed how much fat and how many kilojoules you are saving, percentage-wise, as compared to the regular, or ‘gourmet’, option.
These products offer impressive savings on both fat and kJ and still taste great – so they’re definitely worth the switch.
Natural yoghurt – save 84% fat, 60% kJ
Low-fat natural yoghurt (also known as ‘plain’ yoghurt) is slightly less creamy than the full-fat version, but you won’t notice when cooking with it. Most of the fat removed is saturated, and there’s no sugar added to compensate, so this is an excellent swap with no real downside.
Smooth ricotta cheese – save 98% fat, 54% kJ
Switching to low-fat ricotta is a must-do – you’ll still get that lovely creaminess of full-fat ricotta, but for a lot less fat and energy. Extra Light Ricotta cheese from Perfect Italiano has only 1.9g fat per 100g, compared to the 12g fat per 100g in full-fat varieties – and a kilojoule content similar to that of low-fat natural yoghurt. Not bad at all!
Coconut ‘milk’ – save 95% fat, 66% kJ
There’s no such thing as low-fat coconut milk or cream, but Carnation’s innovative coconut-flavoured evaporated milk is an low-fat product that saves you up to two-thirds the kilojoules and 95% fat without compromising on flavour. Be warned, though – it can ‘split’ if heated for too long, so if your recipe requires long cooking times, use light coconut milk or cream. (Neither of these are technically classified as low-fat, but they still save you notable fat and kilojoule amounts, so are also a worthwhile substitute.)
Milk – save 97% fat, 39% kJ
It’s mostly saturated fat that is removed from low-fat milk, but most of that creamy taste remains, so this is a worthwhile swap. Skim milk (which has even less fat than low-fat milk) is less creamy in taste, but is virtually fat-free, so may or may not be worthwhile – depending on your health goals and tastes. Look for PhysiCAL No Fat, which is ultra-filtered to produce a creamier flavour and has added vitamin D for extra nutritional kick.
Soy milk – save 77% fat, 60% kJ
Although most of the fats present in soy milk are ‘good’ fats, choosing a low-fat variety will save you more than half the kilojoules. Taste isn’t sacrificed in low-fat varieties either, and they are still reasonably creamy. For those who want the benefits of soy, but don’t enjoy the flavour, Vitasoy So Milky Lite is a great low-fat alternative. It tastes less like soy and more like milk, and is also gluten free.
Kangaroo sausages – save 95% fat, 58% kJ
It is impressive to see sausages that qualify as a low-fat food – most sausages contain around 20% fat, but Kanga Bangas, made from kangaroo meat, manage to be low-fat and still taste great (really – we tried them out especially!)
Seasoned frozen fish fillet – save 63% fat, 62% kJ
Seasoned fish fillets, instead of crumbed, sound like the healthier option – but some seasoned varieties are still high in fat. Look specifically for the ‘low-fat’ claim – brands like I&J Flame Grills and Ocean House Steamed Fish, with lemon pepper, garlic and herb varieties, are low-fat and flavoursome. Or you can purchase natural frozen fillets, such as Sealord Simply Natural, and add the seasoning yourself.
Instant noodles – save 99% fat, 40% kJ
When you’re adding noodles to a meal, most of the flavour comes from the stir-fry and the sauce – so choose low-fat noodles and you’ll save fat and energy without even noticing. With less than 1g fat in low-fat varieties, compared to 10g fat in regular versions, the switch is worth it!
Cheddar cheese slices
With only 2.2% fat, Kraft Free Singles cheese slices are the first low-fat cheddar cheese slice available – with 164mg calcium per slice, and the benefit of added vitamin D, it’s definitely worth the swap. They may not be as flavoursome as full fat varieties, but you won’t miss it if you have other ingredients in your sandwich or on your crackers.
Custard – save 90% fat, 46% kJ
As with most dairy foods, cutting back on the fat often means a significant cut in the saturated fat content. Low-fat varieties of custard have six times less saturated fat than the premium styles, but the sugar content doesn’t increase at all – so this swap is a real fat and kilojoule-saver.
Flavoured milk – save 76% fat, 35% kJ
You can save good amounts of saturated fat and over a third of the kilojoules by choosing low-fat flavoured milk over the full-fat version – so it’s worth the switch. But beware, low-fat or not, all flavoured milks have added sugar. You’ll save the most kilojoules – up to 46% – by choosing a low-fat, reduced-sugar variety, such as those from Rush.
These foods offer great fat savings, but may not save you significant kilojoules, or taste good enough, to be a worthwhile swap.
Mayonnaise – save 97% fat, 85% kJ
This is a super fat and energy saver – traditional mayo can contain up to 85g fat per 100g! So if you’re trying to lose weight, or you’re regularly using larger amounts (eg. in potato salad or coleslaw), a low-fat variety is a better option. The texture and taste just isn’t the same, however, so if you’re only using a small amount (say, a teaspoon), you might be better off indulging in regular mayo.
Salad dressing – save 99% fat, 73% kJ
French, Italian, Caesar... these are also super savers in the fat and energy departments, and well worth the switch if you’re watching your kilojoule intake. But, the taste may be less than satisfying and the fat that’s removed is often ‘good’ fat, which can help your body absorb the fat-soluble nutrients in your salad more effectively. So what you choose will depend on your individual health goals.
Bacon – save 92% fat, 67% kJ
Cutting visible fat off meat will drastically reduce the fat, particularly saturated fat. Weight Watchers have a super-lean variety, with only 2% fat. It can be a little dry (it doesn’t spit fat in the pan whilst cooking), but it still has that classic bacon flavour. An impressive saving that’s worth a try.
Chocolate mousse dessert – save 92% fat, 65% kJ
Traditionally made with cream, chocolate mousse is very high in saturated fat. Choosing low-fat diet chocolate mousse instead – sweetened with artificial flavours – will save you fat and kilojoules, so it’s a good choice. It doesn’t have the same texture or depth of flavour as the real thing though, so if you’re specifically craving chocolate mousse, you might be better off having a small portion of the real thing instead.
Ice-cream – save 59% fat, 14% kJ
Added sugar and fillers usually replace the fat in low-fat ice-creams, so the kilojoule savings are generally only about 14%. Does that make it a worthwhile swap? That depends on how closely you’re watching your kilojoule intake – or how much you love the occasional scoop of full-fat ice-cream. If you’re really watching your kilojoules, an artificially sweetened low-fat ice-cream, such as Peters No Added Sugar, might be more suitable – you’ll up the kilojoule savings to around 34%.
Tinned tuna – save 92% fat, 48% kJ
You can save 92% fat if you choose tinned tuna packed in spring water instead of oil, and a small amount of kilojoules, too, but you’ll miss out on a small amount of ‘good’ fats (from the oil). Both are healthy options, so this is probably a taste decision more than anything else. Either way, both are better than tuna in brine, which may be lower in fat than oil, but is higher in sodium.
Crackers – save 88% fat, 14% kJ
97% fat-free crackers don’t offer much in the way of kilojoule savings, as milk powder is used to replace the fat, but they can drastically cut the saturated fat. Jatz Light 97% Fat Free crackers, for example, have just 0.7g saturated fat per 100g (compared to 9.1g in the original), and they still taste great – so it’s a worthwhile swap. Just don’t undermine your healthy choice by dipping them into high-fat dips and spreads!
Crispbread – save 83% fat, 9% kJ
Like crackers, choosing low-fat crispbreads (Ryvita, Cruskits or Vita-Weats) means very little savings in the kilojoule department, but you are cutting out most of the saturated fat, so it’s a good swap from a health perspective. The multigrain varieties, such as those from Salada, also offer the benefit of 6.3g fibre per 100g.
Ice-cream bars – save 49% fat, 8% kJ
As with ice-cream tubs, low-fat single serve ice-creams (such as Billabong), don’t save you much in the way of kilojoules – a paltry 8%, in this instance. Choose artificially sweetened low-fat ice-cream, such as Nestle’s Skinny Cow, and you can save a more impressive 24% in kilojoules.
Flavoured yoghurt – save 99% fat, 16% kJ
Despite a huge fat saving, most (but not all) low-fat yoghurts have almost the same amount of kilojoules as their full-fat cousins, as extra sugar is often added to compensate for the removed fat and boost flavour. If you’re looking to reduce your saturated fat intake however, low-fat yoghurt can be a better option. If you’re concerned about kilojoule intake, you’ll find the biggest savings (up to 69%) in artificially sweetened low-fat yoghurts, such as Vaalia Light or Yoplait formé.
The low-fat promise doesn’t really deliver with these products.
They seem healthy, by saving you fat – but they don’t save kilojoules. Like all confectionery, marshmallows may claim to be low-fat, however, they are high in sugar. The low-fat claim is of no nutritional benefit!
Cornflakes may be 99% fat-free – but that doesn’t mean you’re ‘saving’ anything in the way of fat, because cornflakes are inherently a 99% fat-free product. So if you’re looking to save fat or kilojoules, choosing a cornflake cereal with a low-fat claim on the pack is no different from choosing a cornflake cereal without the claim! There is one exception to this, however – cornflake cereals with added nuts (nuts contain fat). These are ‘good’ fats, however, so there’s no need to avoid them unless you’re trying to cut back your kilojoule intake at breakfast.
Although ‘99% fat-free’ soft jelly jube might sound healthier than a high-fat, chewy, choc-filled caramel, neither one is a healthy choice – and they contain similar amounts of kilojoules. Rather than choosing something low-fat, choose the treat you like most – just enjoy a sensibly-sized portion.
Sweetened condensed milk
The low-fat varieties cut back a big serve of saturated fat, which is promising, but they are still very high in kilojoules, due to the presence of a lot of sugar, so you’ll only save around 15% in kilojoules. This is a real ‘indulgence’ item, so you’re better off choosing whatever works best in your recipe – and again, enjoying only a small amount.
They’re not low-fat, but these reduced-fat products are worth a mention.
Sausages – save 95% fat, 58% kJ
If low-fat kangaroo sausages aren’t to your liking, Peppercorn Food Company makes tasty, extra lean sausages made from beef, pork or chicken that contain just 6–8% fat. They’re also gluten-free.
Sliced meat – save 40% fat, 49% kJ
If you like the occasional slice of processed meat, lean options such as 97% fat-free chicken and turkey breast, are the healthier choice, but other reduced-fat versions of some processed meats are decent options. Hans offer an impressive 40% reduced-fat salami, and a 55% reduced-fat strassburg, which also cut a lot of saturated fat.
Margarine/table spread – save 64% fat, 60% kJ
There are so many varieties of reduced-fat spreads these days, ranging from regular to extra light. Flora makes an ultra light margarine, which has just 23.6g fat per 100g (as opposed to 65g per 100g in a regular spread). This isn’t suitable for cooking, however – you’ll need a reduced-fat table spread with 50–59% fat, or one with 60% fat or more for baking.
Cream – save 63% fat, 60% kJ
Reduced-fat cream is a good choice for pouring or cooking, although it won’t be any good for whipping. You can further increase your fat savings in cooking by replacing cream with light evaporated milk (1.6% fat) when suitable.
Potato crisps – save 75% fat, 28% kJ
Potato crisps are usually around 30% fat, but reduced-fat varieties, such as those by Sultry Sally, are a better choice to help satisfy your savoury snack craving.
Tasty cheese – save 55% fat, 69% kJ
Reduced-fat block cheeses offer considerable energy savings, and contain noticeably less saturated fat. They’re an excellent swap for use in cooking.
Air-popped popcorn – save 83% fat, 30% kJ
This high-fibre, wholegrain snack is often laden with fat (around 30%), but the air-popped varieties, at around just 5% fat, are a nutritious snack.
Choosing low-fat foods can be a minefield! Make it easy on yourself by keeping the following advice in mind:
It’s important to look at the entire nutritional picture when purchasing foods that claim to be ‘low-fat’ (or ‘97% fat free’, or ‘no-fat’, etc). Some low-fat foods might save you fat, but not kilojoules, thanks to added sugar (for taste) or starches (for ‘mouth feel’). For the full picture, compare nutrition information for the low-fat and full-fat versions.
If you are trying to lose weight, low-fat foods can be a good choice – just keep the serving size the same. A food might be low-fat, but that doesn’t mean you can eat twice as much!
Fat carries flavour. So sometimes, a low-fat food can taste less flavoursome or creamy. However, with time, your taste buds will adjust. Persevere!
Some low-fat foods are simply not as enjoyable as their full-fat counterparts. Weigh up the benefits and make the right choice for you – at times, you might be better off consuming a smaller serve of the full-fat version.
How can I tell if a low-fat food is a good choice?
Reading food labels can provide information about the amount, and type, of fat in food. All packaged food products contain a nutrition information panel (NIP), providing the energy content (kJ), the total fat and saturated fat, and the amount of nutrients per serve and per 100g. Some companies will also voluntarily provide the mono- poly- and trans-fat content. Check out the nutrition information panel to find out more about food products. When comparing products, refer to the ‘per 100g’ column, as companies may differ in their defined ‘serving’ sizes.