By Yeo Chee Yew

When Low Fat Made You Fatter

In Part 1 of this article series, we revisit the dark birth of the "low-fat" label.


Low-Fat: What Happened Next?

Trans Fat

As the western world (and similarly Singapore) got swept up by the promises touted by a low-fat diet, the food industry got to work replacing the animal fats in their products with unsaturated vegetable oils. Some of the changes they had to make included altering the structure of the vegetable oil so it could be used in the place of solid fats. Enter hydrogenation, which created a solid or semi-solid fat thought to be more appropriate for their food processing needs.

Unfortunately, we now know these hydrogenated fats increase levels of dangerous trans fats which are both bad for the heart and our cholesterol. Although trans fats can be found at low levels in some natural foods, these man-made counterparts meant it was likely we were eating more of them.


Back to Sugar

But low-fat foods at least cut out something, right? Wrong! When you take the fat out of food, it makes food taste worse. So to make it more palatable, food companies typically add a little something. Hello again to our not so dear friend, sugar, and piles and piles of it.

All of this meant that the typical low-fat product tended to be high in carbs, might contain trans-fats and at the end of the day had a very similar calorie count to the original product. A diet too high in these refined carbs and sugars can be as unhealthy as a high-fat diet because it increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease, as well as causes high cholesterol levels.

As the consumption of saturated fat decreased by about 40 percent, the consumption of refined grains, i.e. carbohydrates that convert to sugar in the body, increased substantially. The total intake of calories also began to increase. These happen in no small part because food companies took advantage of the low-fat craze.

What you end up with is your local FairPrice (or any other supermarket) being stocked full of supposedly healthy low-fat but high sugar foods, a phenomenon that still holds true today. Unfortunately, food that is high in sugar stimulates reward centres in the brain, leaving us wanting more. All these culminate in a fatter population with greater health issues like Type 2 diabetes.

Taking Back Control

How do we get ourselves out of this spiral? There are many options available. For some, it is a low carb, high-fat diet. For others, it is a Mediterranean diet. It could be a vegetarian diet or something else entirely. You need to find the best solution for YOU.

And that’s the point: we need to take responsibility for our own health. It could be picking up a new sport, enrolling for a class on Circle, or consulting an ActiveHealth expert. Find what works uniquely for you, and stick to it!


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