Feb 15, 2004 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Nutrition: Choosing Healthy, Low-Fat Foods

Am Fam Physician. 2004 Feb 15;69(4):927-928.

Eating healthy foods does not mean losing flavor. You can choose and prepare low-fat foods that your family will enjoy. Just follow the advice below and be aware that a “serving” might be smaller than you think.

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta

Eat at least six servings of grain products a day. One serving is about 1¼2 cup of cooked pasta or rice, one slice of bread, or a small bowl of cereal. Whole-grain breads are low in fat; they also are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Choose these breads for sandwiches and as additions to meals.

Avoid rich bakery foods such as donuts, sweet rolls, and muffins. These foods can contain more than 50 percent fat calories. Snacks such as angel food cake and gingersnap cookies can satisfy your sweet tooth without adding fat to your diet.

Hot and cold cereals are usually low in fat. Granola cereals may have high-fat oils and extra sugars. Instant cereals with cream also may contain extra oils or butterfat.

Avoid fried snacks such as potato chips and tortilla chips. Try the low-fat or baked chips.

Vegetables and Fruits

Eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day. One serving is one cup of raw leafy vegetables, or one medium apple. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, and they add flavor and variety to your diet. They also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and sour cream add fat to vegetables and fruits. Use herbs and plain yogurt as seasonings instead.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, and Dry Beans

Eat two to four servings of meat or meat alternatives a day. One serving is 2 or 3 ounces of lean meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Beef, Pork, Veal, and Lamb. Baking, broiling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare meat. Lean cuts can be pan-broiled or stir-fried. Use a nonstick pan or nonstick spray coating.

Trim outside fat away before cooking. Trim any inside, separable fat before eating. Select low-fat, lean cuts of meat. Lean beef and veal cuts have the word “loin” or “round” in their names. Lean pork cuts have the word “loin” or “leg” in their names.

Use herbs, spices, fresh vegetables, and fat-free marinades to season meat. Avoid high-fat sauces and gravies.

  • Poultry. Baking, broiling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare poultry. Skinless poultry can be pan-broiled or stir-fried. Use a nonstick pan or nonstick spray coating.

Remove skin and visible fat before cooking. Choose low-fat breast cuts. Chicken breasts are a good choice because they are low in fat. Eat domestic goose and duck only once in a while because they are high in fat.

  • Fish. Poaching, steaming, baking, and broiling are the healthiest ways to prepare fish. Fresh fish should have firm, springy flesh, a clear color, a moist look, and a clean smell. If good-quality fresh fish is not available, buy frozen fish.

Most seafood is low in saturated fat. The omega-3 fatty acids that are found in some fatty fish, such as salmon and cold-water trout, may help lower the risk of heart disease in some people.

  • Cross-Over Foods. Dry beans, peas, and lentils offer protein and fiber without the cholesterol and fat that meats have. A half cup of cooked dry beans is about the same as 1 ounce of lean meat. Once in a while, try substituting beans for meat in a favorite recipe, such as lasagna or chili.

TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is widely available in many prepared foods. Vegetarian hot dogs, “hamburger” and “chicken nuggets” are low-fat, cholesterol-free alternatives to meat.

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

One serving of dairy is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1 ½ ounces of cheese. Drink skim milk or buttermilk. Substitute evaporated skim milk for cream in recipes for soups and sauces.

Try fat-free or low-fat cheeses. Use fat-free cream cheese on a bagel or in a vegetable dip. Use part-skim mozzarella or low-fat cheddar cheese instead of regular cheddar cheese in recipes. Use 1 percent or fat-free cottage cheese for salads and cooking. Eat string cheese as a low-fat, high-calcium snack.

Use fat-free sour cream instead of regular sour cream. Plain fat-free yogurt can replace sour cream in many recipes. (To maintain texture, stir 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into each cup of yogurt before cooking.) Try frozen fat-free or low-fat yogurt for dessert.

Skim sherbet and fat-free yogurt are alternatives to ice cream.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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