Which Foods Should You Eat and Which Should Be Avoided on a Low-Fat Diet?

Medically Reviewed on 9/21/2022

What are good fats and bad fats?

Studies show that there are several benefits of eating a low-fat diet. Foods to eat on a low-fat diet include whole grains, proteins, dairy, and produce.
Studies show that there are several benefits of eating a low-fat diet. Foods to eat on a low-fat diet include whole grains, proteins, dairy, and produce.

Studies show that there are several benefits of eating a low-fat diet. Eating a low-fat diet can help prevent a number of diseases and slow down the progression of diabetes and some cancers. That said, it’s important to know how to eat well on a low-fat diet, as well as the differences between good fats and bad fats. Here are some ideas when it comes to which low-fat foods to eat and which you should avoid.

On a low-fat diet, you should avoid foods that are high in saturated fat. This kind of fat usually comes from animal products like meat and dairy. Saturated fats are considered to be bad fats since they increase your risk of heart disease and may lead to weight gain.

On a low-fat diet, you want to cut out foods that have high levels of saturated fats and swap them for low-fat foods or foods with good fats, like unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats, or healthy fats, can have positive health benefits, such as lowering your cholesterol or risk of heart disease.

Studies show that eating a low-fat diet has several benefits, but our bodies need some healthy fats, too. These can be a part of your diet as you cut out foods with saturated fats. Good fats are found in:

  • Fish
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Starting a low-fat diet

When you start on a low-fat diet, keeping a food journal of the meals and snacks you eat throughout the day can be helpful. This can help you keep track of the foods you’re eating and how much fat is in them.

People on a low-fat or fat-restricted diet should limit their intake to 50 grams of fat per day. This is about 22% of all of the food you eat based on a 2,000-calorie diet. When you go grocery shopping, look for options that are labeled low-fat, non-fat, or fat-free. These products should contain 3 grams of fat or less per serving.

When preparing foods at home, opt for low-fat cooking methods and avoid frying. Good preparation techniques to eat less fat include:

  • Grilling
  • Boiling
  • Steaming
  • Roasting
  • Broiling
  • Baking
  • Poaching

Low-fat foods to include

Eating well on a low-fat diet means choosing from a variety of food groups, just as you would on a regular diet.

Whole grains. Whole grains are complex carbs that are a good source of energy. Complex carbs release glucose, or sugar, into your bloodstream slowly. Refined carbs, like products made from white flour, can cause your blood sugar to spike. Whole grains are high in fiber and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. Some low-fat foods to choose from in this food group include:

  • Oatmeal 
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Soft tortillas, either corn or whole wheat
  • Low-fat crackers

Proteins. Low-fat diets should limit red meat or processed meat products. If you choose to eat red meat, like beef, look for lean cuts or extra-lean ground meat. Instead, swap them for healthy proteins that are low in fat, like:

  • Skinless chicken or turkey breast 
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Eggs (limit to 3 or 4 yolks a week), egg whites, and egg substitutes
  • Whitefish and canned tuna (packed in water)
  • Seafood like shrimp and crab
  • Tofu and veggie burgers

Dairy. Dairy is a good source of calcium, which is important for bone health. Products made from whole milk tend to be high in fat, so you want to look for low-fat or fat-free dairy products. You could also try nut milk and products made from nut milk with no added sugars. This includes:

  • Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese
  • Fat-free or light sour cream and cream cheese
  • Fat-free or light cheese made from fat-free milk

Produce. Fruits and vegetables are all low-fat and an important part of any diet. Adults should aim to eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies every day. We need to include a variety of colorful fruits and veggies since they are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While fresh produce is the best option, you can also eat frozen or canned items as long as they don’t have added sugar or salt.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

What to avoid

Now that you know what to eat, it’s important to know what to avoid on a low-fat diet. There are four types of dietary fats. As mentioned, saturated fats are bad fats in animal products. Monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the good, heart-healthy ones. The last group is trans fats. These fats are found in processed and fried foods.

Meat. When it comes to choosing proteins, you need to choose wisely. When you eat meat other than white meat poultry, choose lean loin or round cuts and trim off any excess fat. Limit your intake of red meat to no more than three servings a week. These meats don’t fit into a low-fat diet:

  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Deli meat
  • Ribs
  • Hot dogs
  • Organ meats

Animal fats. When you cook, avoid using products with animal fats like lard, butter, and cream. Even light versions of these products, like reduced fat butter and margarine, are still quite high in fat. Use cooking sprays or a little bit of olive oil, which has heart-healthy fats. You can even use water in place of oils for marinades or some cooking, like prepping veggies for a stew.

Processed and fried foods. Processed foods like packaged snacks, pastries, and chips are usually high in saturated fats. If you need a snack, opt for something like fruit or raw veggies with hummus. Prepared meals are usually high in fat and sodium, so check the label.

Avoid fried food and fast food as most of it doesn’t belong in a low-fat diet. If you eat out, look for healthier choices. Choose dishes that have grilled or steamed fish, accompanied by vegetables and complex carbs. Skip creamy sauces and choose tomato-based sauces or vinaigrettes. 

Dairy. Avoid products made with 2% or whole milk. Regular cheese and cream cheese are high in fat, so look for low-fat or fat-free options. Avoid cream and whipped cream when cooking and baking.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 9/21/2022

American Cancer Society: "Low-Fat Foods."

BetterHealth Channel: "Dietary fat."

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center: "New study confirms the long-term benefits of a low-fat diet."

Harvard T.C. Chan: "Fats and Cholesterol."

Heart UK: "How can I eat less fat?"

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust: "Dietary Fat Counter for a Very Low Fat Diet."

MyWay Digital Health: "Low calorie/low fat."

NHS: "How to eat less saturated fat."

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Cut Down on Saturated Fats."

UCSF Health: "Guidelines for a Low Cholesterol, Low Saturated Fat Diet."

Winchester Hospital: "Fat-Restricted Diet."