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Fat-Free Products Can Actually Make You Fatter

by Matt Weik

We have been programmed to shop for fat-free products at the grocery store, as products with fat have somehow become demonized by society. People assume when you eat fat it will make you fat. Those of you who are educated on nutrition, know this isn’t exactly the case. Yet, there seems to be one thing people aren’t doing when they are picking up their favorite fat-free variety of products at the store, and that is actually looking at the label.

So many times, consumers see marketing on a label and because of the words they read, they assume the product is a better choice. You see labels with huge callouts saying “fat-free” when in actuality it might be fat free, but the manufacturer has added sugar in its place. When it comes to flavoring, fats and sugars are two of the most common ways to sweeten up any product and make it taste better (aside from artificial sweeteners like Stevia, Splenda, ect.). So, when a manufacturer says a product is fat-free, generally you will see a higher amount of sugars. And just the opposite, if you see a product that claims to be sugar-free, it generally has a higher amount of fats added to it. The “free” part of the label claims can be quite deceiving for consumers who don’t know any better and actually trusts a brand. What I’ve come to learn over the years is not to believe anything the label or marketing materials say. When things are removed, other ingredients are added in their place. It becomes what’s the better choice of two evils more times than not. Now, researchers are jumping in to give their two cents as well on the topic.

Fat (not PHAT) research

As with many studies these days, researchers first test on rodents—this study is no different. Researchers took lab rats and fed them a diet that was high in sugars and low in fat or a diet high in both sugar and fat and then compared them to rats they fed a well-balanced diet (three groups in all). They studied the rats over the course of a four-week period and checked their weight, body composition, caloric intake, as well as their fecal matter (yes, poop).

Obviously, at the end of the study, the rats who followed a well-balanced diet were the healthiest of all the groups studied. The researchers noted that the groups that consumed the high-sugar, low-fat and the high-sugar, high-fat had the greatest change in body fat. Not only were their body fat percentages increased, but the high-sugar, low-fat group showed an increased risk of fatty liver disease due to the liver fat that accumulated over the course of the four weeks. Another finding was that the rats who followed a high-sugar diet had more health issues than any other group studied. These rats showed an increase in body fat, had brain and intestinal tract inflammation, and as I just mentioned, some were even shown to have liver damage due to the high amounts of sugar being consumed. They also mentioned that due to the brain inflammation which can be long-term, it disrupts the signals being sent that cause the sensation of satiety. This causes the rats to eat more than they should, which also leads to weight and body fat increases.

One researcher mentioned, “Most so-called diet products containing low or no fat have an increased amount of sugar and are camouflaged under fancy names, giving the impression that they are healthy, but the reality is that those foods may damage the liver and lead to obesity as well. What’s really troubling in our findings is that the rats consuming high-sugar, low-fat diets didn’t consume significantly more calories than the rats fed a balanced diet. Our research shows that in rats fed a low-fat, high-sugar diet, the efficiency of generating body fat is more than twice as high—in other words, rats consuming low-fat high-sugar diets need less than half the number of calories to generate the same amount of body fat.”

How will these effect human subjects?

That is still left to be seen. However, the findings with the rodents seems to make sense should it also be found in humans. Our diet plays a huge roll in our overall health and longevity. If you consume foods high in sugar, we all know the consequences that come along with such a poor choice. You have fluctuations in your energy levels and moods, you increase your risk for diabetes and fatty liver, among other conditions and diseases. Look at a normal American diet these days—there’s no shortage of sugar in it, especially when you have people consuming soda in excess daily. You have people eating sugary foods like donuts, cereal, candy, desserts, ice cream, and even adding sugar to items such as coffee and tea. It’s out of control. I’ve even had an article published where I spoke about the Philadelphia Soda Tax which was really a tax on any beverage that contained sugars. And guess what, it hasn’t changed a thing other than consumer’s wallets are getting lighter.

I’d love to see some research done on human participants, and I’m willing to bet the results will be similar if not exact to the rodent study mentioned in this article. We are on a downward spiral as a society and while our health keeps going down, our waistlines and weight/body fat keeps going up. We are only doing it to ourselves. And if you don’t want to be a statistic, you need to take a long hard look in the mirror and decide if you’re willing to take the necessary steps to get your life and health in order.


1.) Tanusree Sen, Carolina R. Cawthon, Benjamin Thomas Ihde, Andras Hajnal, Patricia M. DiLorenzo, Claire B. de La Serre, Krzysztof Czaja. Diet-driven microbiota dysbiosis is associated with vagal remodeling and obesity. Physiology & Behavior, 2017; 173: 305 DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.02.027

2.) University of Georgia. “‘Diet’ products can make you fat, study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 April 2017. .

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