Purpose

For a regular, healthy diet, it is recommended that of the total calories you eat, no more than 30% should come from fat. However, certain diseases and medical conditions can make it difficult for the body to tolerate even that much fat, so a low-fat diet may help people with these conditions.

Gallbladder Disease: Bile secreted from the gallbladder helps the body break down and absorb fats. When gallstones or gallbladder diseases are present, a low-fat diet is often used to prevent complications. 

Delayed stomach emptying (Gastroparesis) is a condition in which the stomach empties food into the intestine too slowly. This can cause bloating, nausea, and even vomiting. Normally, fat in foods delays stomach emptying, so fats make gastroparesis worse. [Learn more about Gastroparesis.]

Diarrhea can be caused by many conditions. When it occurs, it can be aggravated by eating fatty foods. [Learn more about Diarrhea.]

Malabsorption of nutrients: Absorption is the transfer of nutrients into the bloodstream from the intestine. In some diseases of the pancreas and small intestine, patients have trouble absorbing nutrients from the diet, including fat. A low-fat diet may help to control symptoms until the cause of malabsorption can be diagnosed. [Learn more about Malabsorption Syndromes.]

Fatty Liver: For a number of reasons, fat may accumulate in the liver. Fat is not normally stored in the liver, and in some cases this can cause damage to the liver. A low fat diet and weight reduction may be helpful.

Nutrition Facts

In most cases, this diet provides all the nutrients required by the National Research Council's Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA). In some cases, however, the physician may prescribe supplements. Women of childbearing age and those people with malabsorption may need to take certain vitamin and/or mineral supplements. 

Special Considerations

  • Be careful how foods are prepared. Trim all visible fat from meats. Bake, steam, or broil meats and fish instead of frying. Toppings for potatoes and pastas should contain no fat above the three allowed daily servings. 
  • This low-fat diet should be used until the underlying medical condition is controlled or corrected. The physician will give any individual instructions, and tell you when you no longer need to use the low-fat diet.

Low Fat Diet Recommendations

Milk & Milk Products

(2 or more cups daily)

Choose these items
Skim milk, evaporated skim milk, skim buttermilk, nonfat sour cream, yogurt made with skim milk (3 gms fat or less/oz, maximum of 3 oz/day), fat-free cheeses, low-fat cottage cheese, part skim mozzarella cheese, part skim or skim ricotta cheese.

Avoid these items
Whole milk, cream, sour cream, non-dairy creamer, whole milk cheese, cheese spreads.

Bread & Grains

(4 or more servings daily)

Choose these items
Whole grain and enriched breads, cold cereal, whole grain cereals (except granola), saltines, soda crackers, low-fat snack crackers, rice cakes, unbuttered popcorn, low-fat muffins, plain pasta, barley, oatmeal, home-made pancakes without fat, French toast made with egg substitute and skim milk.

Avoid these items
Breads containing egg, cheese, or made with fat; biscuits; sweet rolls; pancakes; French toast; doughnuts; waffles; fritters; muffins; granola-type cereals; snack crackers; potato chips; packaged stuffing; fried rice; chow mein noodles.

Vegetables

(3 or more servings daily)

Choose these items
All vegetables (steamed, raw, boiled, or baked without added fat).

Avoid these items
Fried vegetables or those in cream, cheese, butter sauces, dips.

Fruits

(2 or more servings daily)

Choose these items
All other fruits.

Avoid these items
Avocado.

Meat or Meat Substitutes

(5 to 6 oz daily)

Choose these items
Poultry (without skin); veal; lean beef trimmed of fat (USDA good or choice cuts of round, sirloin, flank, and tenderloin); fresh, canned, cured, or boiled ham; Canadian bacon; lean pork (tenderloin, chops, cutlet); fish (fresh, frozen, canned in water); eggs (boiled, scrambled without added fat); luncheon meat at least 95% fat free.

Avoid these items
Any fried, fatty, or heavily marbled meat, fish, or poultry; beef (USDA prime cuts, ribs, ground beef, corned beef); pork (spareribs, ham hocks); fish (canned in oil); eggs (fried in butter, oil, or margarine); luncheon meat less than 95% fat free.

Beverages

(4 to 6 cups or more daily)

Choose these items
Decaffeinated or regular coffee or tea, cocoa made with skim milk, fruit juices, soft drinks, water.

Avoid these items
Beverages made with high fat dairy products.

Soups

Choose these items
Fat-free broths, consommés, bouillon; soups made with fat-free broth, skim milk, evaporated skim milk.

Avoid these items
Cream soups, soups with added oils or meat fats, soups made from stocks containing meat fat.

Fats & Oils

(3 servings daily, each listed is one serving)

Choose these items
Avocado 2 Tbsp or 1/8 medium, margarine 1 tsp, diet margarine 2 tsp, salad dressing 1 Tbsp, diet salad dressing 2 Tbsp, vegetable oils 1 tsp, nuts (raw or dry roasted): almonds 6, peanuts 20 small or 10 large, whole walnuts 2, whole pistachios 18, sesame seeds 1 Tbsp, sunflower seeds 1 Tbsp, saturated fats: bacon 1 strip, butter 1 tsp, dried coconut 2 Tbsp, cream cheese 1 Tbsp, sour cream 2 Tbsp, other fats: olive oil 1 tsp, peanut oil 1 tsp, large olives 10, peanut butter 2 tsp.

Avoid these items
Any fat in excess.

Sweets & Desserts

(servings depend on caloric needs)

Choose these items
Sherbet made with skim milk, non-fat frozen yogurt, fruit ice, gelatin, angel food cake, vanilla wafers, ginger snaps, graham crackers, meringues, puddings made with skim milk, tapioca, fat-free cakes and cookies, fruit whips made with gelatin or egg whites, hard candy, jelly beans, jelly, jams, marmalades, maple syrup.

Avoid these items
Ice cream, pastries, cakes, cookies, pies, doughnuts, pudding made with whole milk, cream puffs, turnovers, chocolate.

Sample Menu: Low Fat Diet

Breakfast

  • Grapefruit (1/2)
  • Dry cereal (3/4 cup)
  • Banana (1/2)
  • Whole wheat toast (2 slices)
  • Margarine (2 tsp)
  • Jelly or jam (1 Tbsp)
  • Skim milk (1 cup)
  • Coffee (3/4 cup)

Lunch

  • Fat free vegetable soup (1 cup)
  • Lean hamburger (2 oz)
  • Mozzarella cheese made with skim milk (1 oz)
  • Hamburger bun
  • Sliced tomato
  • Lettuce
  • Fresh fruit salad (1/2 cup)
  • Angel food cake (1 slice)
  • Skim milk (1 cup)
  • Coffee (3/4 cup)

Dinner

  • Tomato juice (1/2 cup)
  • Broiled chicken breast without skin (3 oz)
  • Herbed rice (1/2 cup)
  • Broccoli (1/2 cup) with low fat cheese sauce (1/4 cup)
  • Hard dinner roll
  • Margarine (1 tsp)
  • Carrot/raisin salad (1/2 cup)
  • Low fat frozen strawberry yogurt (1/2 cup)
  • Skim milk (1 cup )

This sample diet provides the following:

  • Calories: 2060
  • Fat: 50 grams
  • Protein: 110 grams
  • Sodium: 4000 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 299 grams
  • Potassium: 4245 mg

For More Information

For more information on this topic, visit:
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute