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Information from Your Family Doctor

Choosing Healthy, Low-Fat Foods


Am Fam Physician. 2000 Nov 15;62(10):2349-2350.

Eating healthy foods doesn't mean losing flavor. You can choose and prepare low-fat foods that your family will enjoy. Just follow the advice below.

Breads, Cereals, Rice and Pasta

Whole-grain breads are low in fat. They are also 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 like 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. But granola cereals may have high-fat oils and extra sugars. Instant cereals with “cream” may also have high-fat oils or butterfat.

Avoid fried snacks. Try the low-fat or baked versions.

Vegetables and Fruits

It is important to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits per day.

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. Instead, use herbs and yogurt as seasonings.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts

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 away outside fat 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 non-fat marinades to season meat. Avoid high-fat sauces and gravies.


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 domesticated goose and duck only once in a while because both are high in fat.


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 isn't available, buy frozen fish.

Most seafood is low in saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in some fatty fish, like salmon and cold water trout, may help lower the risk of heart disease in some people.

Cross-Over Foods

Dry beans, peas and lentils fit in the meat and meat-alternatives group or in the vegetable group. They make tasty low-fat main dishes that are good sources of water, fiber and protein.

Milk, Yogurt and Cheese

Choose skim milk or buttermilk. Substitute evaporated skim milk for cream in recipes for soups and sauces.

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

Plain nonfat yogurt can replace sour cream in many recipes. (To maintain texture, stir 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into each cup of yogurt that you use in cooking.) Try frozen nonfat or low-fat yogurt for dessert.

Skim sherbet is an alternative to ice cream. Soft-serve and regular ice creams are lower in fat than premium styles.

This handout was originally published in the Physician's Guide to Outpatient Nutrition. Copyright© 2000 American Academy of Family Physicians.

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

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 © 2000 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 for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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