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Low Fat Foods

Child Nutrition Basics

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Updated March 13, 2008

Although most kids get too much fat in their diets, there is one age group of kids for which you shouldn't limit fat intake -- infants and toddlers under age two years. These children are still growing and need more fat in their diet than older kids. That doesn't mean that you have to go out of your way to give your 18 month old French fries or have to avoid naturally low-fat foods, including most fruits and vegetables, but they shouldn't drink low-fat milk, eat commercially made fat-free foods, or be put on a low fat diet.

As you learn to avoid high-fat foods for all other children, it is just as important to learn to choose low-fat foods as part of your family's healthy diet.

It is often easy to choose low-fat foods, many clues are on the food label when a food is low, including nutrition claims that the food is:

  • fat free (less than 0.5g of fat per serving)
  • low fat (less than 3g of fat per serving)
  • lean (less than 10g of fat per serving and 4.5g of saturated fat)
  • extra lean (less than 5g of fat per serving and 2g of saturated fat)

Nutrition claims that are less helpful when choosing low-fat foods include the terms reduced, less, and light, since they only mean that the food has fewer calories or grams of fat than the regular version of the food.

For example, consider these chips:

  • DORITOS Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 8g of fat and 140 calories per serving
  • DORITOS Reduced Fat Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 5g of fat and 120 calories per
  • DORITOS Light Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 2g of fat and 100 calories per serving

If you thought that the reduced fat chips were low fat, you would have been mistaken. They are not a bad choice, since they are not high in fat, but you can find "potato chips" with even less fat. These include BAKED! LAY'S Original Potato Crisps, with only 1.5g of fat, and TOSTITOS Light Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips, which as only 1g of fat per serving.

Low-Fat Foods

Unfortunately, just because something is low in fat doesn't meant that it is low in calories. So while you want to avoid high-fat foods, you also want to avoid foods that are high in sugar and calories. For example, most of the foods that rank at the top of the list for being low in fat in the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference include candy, soda, and fruit drinks.

Healthy low-fat foods, in addition to those that are labeled low fat or fat free, include:

  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Egg whites
  • Baked potatoes
  • Grapes
  • Angel food cake*
  • Oatmeal cookies*
  • Breakfast cereals (most brands)
  • Watermelon
  • Air-popped popcorn (without added butter)*
  • Light tuna fish (canned in water)
  • Grean peas
  • Wheat bread
  • Pancakes
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Pretzels*
  • Vegetable soup
  • Chicken soup with rice
  • Milk - 1% reduced fat and skim milk

In addition to the fruits and vegetables listed above, keep in mind that most raw fruits and vegetables, except for avocados and olives, are naturally low in fat.

What's missing from the list of low-fat foods? Hot dogs, cheese burgers, French fries, milk shakes, chicken nuggets, tacos, and many other high-fat kid's favorites.

Hidden Fats

Many low-fat foods become high fat foods when parents unknowingly add high fat or hidden fat ingredients to them, including:

  • oils, which are 100% fat and should only be used in limited amounts, with an emphasis on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils
  • butter and margarine
  • cheese
  • mayonnaise (1 tablespoon = 10g of fat and 90 calories)
  • ranch dressing (2 tablespoons = 15g of fat and 140 calories)
  • nuts

Other foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, palm kernel oil, or coconut oil, are likely also high in fat.

*These are a few examples of low-fat snacks and most should be eaten in moderation only.



Sources:

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18. Energy (kcal) Content of Selected Foods per Common Measure, sorted by nutrient content.

USDA. The Food Label.

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