Very Low Fat Diet

Step 1: Recognising foods high and low in fat

Before you start it is a good idea to have an idea of the amount of fat you are allowed on a daily basis. You can find this out by talking to your doctor or dietitian.  

If you are planning to follow a very low fat diet (where fat makes up no more than 20% of the energy you eat, or even less) it is best to get help from a dietitian. They can ensure that your diet is still nutritionally balanced and will have advice sheets and recipes to help you.

Now you should have:

  • A target fat intake
  • Support from your doctor and dietitian if you need it

Keeping a diet diary

Before you start, you may be asked to keep a food diary. This is a great idea. It helps you to see exactly what you are eating and how this fits with any treatment or symptoms you might have. You can also review your diary with the dietitian every time you visit.

It is a good idea to keep a diet diary every day, at least until your new low fat eating habits are well established. Once you are confident in your new way of eating, you don’t need to keep a diary every day but it may help you to review your eating habits from time to time.

You can use the HEART UK food diary to help you. Use the right-hand column to make a note of the number of grams of fat you are eating in each food item.

High Fat – AVOID

  • any drink with more than 8.75g fat per 100ml
  • any food with more than 17.5g fat per 100g

These include oil, butter, ghee, lard, suet, goose fat, coconut oil and hard margarine. All spreads and cooking fats are high in fat and so most people will need to avoid these.

Spreads labelled “light”, “lite” or “low fat” have the lowest fat content, but they are still high fat so if you use them, do so sparingly. If you need to fry then use a good non-stick frying pan and an oil and water cooking spray. These sprays are half fat and half water but because you spray them they deliver only small amounts of fat.

Medium Fat - avoid these or  keep to small portions

  • any food with more than 3g and less than 17.5g fat per 100g
  • any drink with more than 1.5g and less than 8.75g fat per 100ml

Low Fat - eat these alongside other fat free foods

  • any food with less than 3g fat per 100g
  • any drink with less than 1.5g fat per 100ml

It is best to use a cooking method that does not need fat such as poaching, steaming, microwaving, grilling, boiling or casseroling.   

Fat Free - eat freely

  • any food with less than 0.5g per 100g
  • any drink with less than 0.5g per 100ml

Meat

  • High Fat
    Processed meats like sausages, kebab meat, fatty burgers and meat pies, sausages rolls, salami, pate and fatty meats like lamb.
  • Medium Fat
    Extra lean mince and lean cuts like brisket and sirloin, pork steaks, gammon and medalions, rabbit, pigeon, low fat sausages, burgers and veggie versions. Back bacon with all fat removed.
  • Low Fat
    Turkey & chicken without the skin – the light meat is the leanest. Venison, veal, liver, kidney, sweetbread.

Look out for the leanest cuts of meat and trim off any visible fat and remove the skin from poultry before cooking.  

Fish, eggs and other protein foods

  • High Fat
    Fish in a creamy sauce, fish canned in oil, fish roe (taramasalata/caviar), quiche
  • Medium Fat
    Fish fingers, fish cooked in breadcrumbs, canned fish in tomato sauce, oily fish (salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, herring), whole eggs (cook without fat)
  • Low Fat
    White fish (cod, haddock, coley, sole, plaice), tinned tuna (in brine or springwater), shellfish (prawns, lobster), Quorn, tofu  
  • Fat Free
    Egg white, egg replacer

Choose tuna and other fish canned in water, tomatoes or brine rather than oil.  Cook eggs without oil, egg whites are fat free. You may need to avoid oily fish and limit egg yolks if you are on the lowest fat restriction.

Fruit, vegetables and pulses

  • High Fat 
    Avocado, high fat salad dressings, fried or coated vegetables, olives, coleslaw, coconut, nuts, seeds, crisps, chips 
  • Medium fat 
    Potato products such as – oven chips, waffles, croquettes
  • Low fat
    Fruit and vegetables – most types, chestnuts, fruit juices and smoothies, beans, peas, lentils, potato, sweet potato, yam, plantain – cooked without fat

Cereals, breads, crackers, grains

  • High fat
    Croissants, Danish pastries, mince pies, cheese scones, waffles, Indian pastries 
  • Medium fat
    Cream crackers, water biscuits, nut-based cereals, pizza, samosa, speciality breads like focaccia, ciabatta, garlic bread, naan, paratha, chapatti made with fat, teacakes, fruit bread, Yorkshire pudding, fried rice, creamy pasta dishes      
  • Low fat
    Bread including white, brown and wholemeal without seeds and nuts, chapatti made without fat, breakfast cereals without nuts, crumpets and English muffins, Crispbreads and rice cakes, wheat flour, plain rice, pasta, noodles, couscous

Rice, bread, plain pasta, noodles, couscous, potatoes, oats and many ready-made breakfast cereals are mainly starch so try to base your meals around them.  Because of the added nutrients and fibre it is always best to opt for whole grain varieties.  Whole grains contain slightly more fat, due to the presence of the wheat germ, but they are still classified as low fat. 

Watch out for speciality breads that may be made with more oil, breakfast cereals containing nuts and coconut such as muesli and granolas as these have fat added to them.  

Dairy Foods and their alternatives

  • High fat
    Cream, cream cheese, full fat cheese, crème fraiche, coconut cream, coffee creamer  
  • Medium fat
    Full cream milk, evaporated milk, goat milk, sheep milk, reduced fat coconut milk, reduced fat single cream, half fat cheeses, light cheese spread, full fat yoghurt, Greek yoghurt, light fromage frais and half fat crème fraiche
  • Low fat
    Low fat milks (1%, semi-skimmed) cottage cheese, curd cheese, quark, soya milk
  • Fat free

    Skimmed milk, fat free yogurt

Skimmed and 1% fat milk are low fat as is soya milk (opt for the calcium fortified varieties). Many dairy foods and their alternatives are “low fat”. Cottage cheese is also suitable for a low fat diet. Be careful with half fat cheeses (as these are still high in fat), half fat creams, semi-skimmed and full fat milk and full fat yogurts.

Snacks, Cakes and Biscuits 

  • High fat
    Cake, pastry, filled, coated or fancy biscuits, shortbread, flapjacks, chocolate, fudge, toffee, Indian sweets, nuts and seeds, ice cream desserts, ice cream lollies, chocolate, fudge, Indian cakes and desserts
  • Medium fat
    Plain, semi-sweet biscuits, custard, milk puddings, ice cream, cereal bars, fruit scones, toffee
  • Low fat
    Some popcorns, chestnuts, jelly beans, jelly babies, milk puddings made with skimmed milk     
  • Fat free
    Boiled, jellied and gummed sweets, jelly, meringue, sorbet, fruit lollies

Go carefully with plain biscuits, English muffins, sponge cakes made without fat, scones, cereal bars and bought desserts.

Drinks 

  • High Fat
    Cream based soups, drinks made with or topped with cream.
  • Medium fat
    Hot chocolate, cocoa, drinks made with full cream milk 
  • Low fat
    Most vegetable soups made without cream, low fat milkshakes (check the labels)
  • Fat free 
    Water, tea, coffee, fruit juice, fizzy drinks and squash 

Seasonings, flavourings, dressings

  • High Fat
    Hummus, peanut butter, chocolate spread, salad cream, mayonnaise, French dressing 
  • Medium fat
    Horseradish sauce, lemon curd, reduced fat mayonnaise and salad cream, reduce fat hummus, guacamole and tzatziki 
  • Low fat
    Herbs, spices, garlic, pepper, lemon juice, stock cubes, yeast and beef extract, mustard, soy sauce, vinegar, pickles. Jam, marmalade, honey, golden syrup, low fat salad dressings.  Tomato ketchup, brown sauce, mustard, mint sauce, fat free salad dressings, reduced fat mayonnaise and salad cream (less than 3g fat/100g).

Ready to move on to Pulling together a meal plan?

Continue to step 2