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Forget Low Fat and Low Sugar, Concentrate on a Healthy Eating Pattern

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Published: January 28, 2021

Reviewed: December 22, 2021

Forget Low-Fat and Low-Sugar Concentrate on a Healthy Eating Pattern
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You want to eat healthfully, but what's the best way to do it? Some of today's popular diets say to cut sugar while others restrict fat. With so many diet books and bloggers, it can be easy to become confused. But no matter the fad diet of the moment, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein foods will always prevail.

A Healthy Eating Pattern

Rather than eating an exclusively low-fat or low-sugar diet, focus on your overall eating pattern. One meal does not make or break one's health; rather, it's what people do most of the time that has a significant impact. Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seafood and lean meats and nuts. Meanwhile, eat less processed meats, sweetened drinks, desserts and refined grains.

Vegetables and fruits should take up the most space when filling your plate (roughly half). Fill the remainder with whole grains and lean protein foods. While not every plate requires each food group, pairing at least two or three different foods will increase your satisfaction and deliver more nutrients. And don't forget to pay attention to your body's hunger and fullness signals.

The Skinny on Fat

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes oils rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids as part of a healthy eating pattern, and recommends limiting saturated and trans fats. Choosing the right kinds of fats, including those from fatty fish such as salmon, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds is especially important.

5 Tips for Making Good Decisions about Fat

  • Try grilled, steamed or baked salmon, trout or mackerel instead of fried or breaded fish.
  • Vary your protein choices by eating more seafood and legumes (including soy foods, beans and lentils).
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and remove visible fat. Remove skin and fat from poultry.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products or calcium-fortified plant-based alternatives. 
  • Top salads with nuts or seeds instead of croutons. Use oil-based salad dressings instead of cream-based dressings.

The Skinny on Sugar

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of daily calories. Added sugars can be found in foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grain snacks and desserts. Naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit and milk are not added sugars.

3 Tips for Reducing Added Sugar

  • Re-think sweets: Enjoy sugary desserts in moderation.
  • Instead of a post-dinner dessert, close out a family mealtime with a cup of decaf coffee or herbal tea — but enjoy it without added sweeteners.
  • Switch from sweetened yogurt with added fruit to plain low-fat yogurt. Then, add fresh fruit for a nutritious, naturally sweet mid-morning snack. Fruit and low-fat dairy contain natural sugars that provide nutrients that promote health.

Your Personalized Healthy Eating Pattern

For more help developing a personalized healthy eating pattern that includes appropriate amounts of healthy fats and sugars, contact a registered dietitian nutritionist.


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