Stocking Low-Fat Foods in Your Pantry

Giving Our Kitchens a Low-Fat Makeover

Assorted spices are an essential part of a stocked pantry
Assorted spices are an essential part of a stocked pantry. Maximilian Stock Ltd./Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Committing to a low-fat lifestyle means making some changes in our kitchens. But what is a low-fat kitchen? Simply, it is replacing high-fat foods with low-fat foods. It also means replacing so-called bad fats with good fats. So yes, those double-stuff sandwich cookies should be tossed, along with that extra-butter popcorn. But don't despair, there are so many low-fat products available these days, that alternatives are pretty easy to find.

So what should we choose and what should we lose?

Choose:

  • Oils Olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, flavored oils, nonstick cooking spray
  • Canned Fish Water-packed tuna, salmon, and sardines
  • Canned Vegetables and Fruit Peas, carrots, corn, beets, mushrooms, asparagus; peaches, pineapple, pears (in light syrup)
  • Canned Tomatoes Whole, diced or crushed tomatoes, tomato purees, tomato sauces (with no added salt)
  • Legumes and Grains Canned or dried black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), kidney beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas; rice, lentils, barley, couscous, quinoa, bulgur
  • Pasta Whole wheat spaghetti, penne, lasagna sheets and other noodles
  • Jars Anchovies, capers, pimientos, peppers, artichokes, pickles, sundried tomatoes, minced garlic
  • Soups and Stocks Low-fat, low-sodium canned soups and soup mixes; low-sodium, fat-free broths, bouillon cubes and stock concentrates
  • Flavorings Herbs, spices and seasonings; whole garlic, garlic paste, tomato paste, chili paste, bottled ginger, low-sodium Worcestershire sauce, reduced-sodium soy sauces and bottled marinades
  • Dressings Vinegars, mustards, low-fat or fat-free salad dressings and mayonnaise
  • Breads and Cereals Whole-grain breads, rolls and bagels; whole-wheat flour; whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal, bran flakes or low-fat granola
  • Dried Fruits Cranberries, cherries, blueberries and raisins
  • Nuts and Seeds Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, pecans; pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flax seeds
  • Sugars Honey, molasses, maple syrup
  • Snacks Pretzels, low-fat microwave popcorn, whole grain crackers; sugar-free/fat-free pudding and jello, applesauce

This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of what kinds of things to stock in a low-fat kitchen so that you have flavorful, nutritious ingredients on hand. Including nuts, seeds, oils and fatty fish in our diets is fine in moderation, as most of the fat from these sources is heart healthy. Be sure to buy plenty of fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables.

Lose:

  • Regular mayonnaise and oil-based dressings
  • Shortening, though there is a trans fat-free version available
  • Oil-packed tuna and fish
  • Canned meats
  • Cream soups and chowders
  • Boxed mac and cheese
  • Flavored pasta and rice mixes
  • Refried beans, unless fat-free
  • Gravy mixes, cheese sauces, pancake and biscuit mixes
  • Sugary cereals
  • Anything with "partially hydrogenated" on the label (cookies, cakes, donuts, muffins)
  • Potato chips, corn chips (unless baked)
  • White bread
  • Coffee creamer

So that is what to choose and lose in your pantry.

But fat can loom even larger in our refrigerators and freezers.

Milk
Many of us have already made the switch from whole milk to some kind of lower-fat milk. But truthfully, drinking 2% milk isn't that much better for us. It still contains 5g of total fat and 3g of saturated fat per one-cup serving. We should really aim for nonfat milk at best, and 1% milk at least. But it doesn’t end there. Choose low-fat or nonfat ice creams or yogurts over full-fat versions, and do the same for sour cream.

Cheese
Choose low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese, cream cheese, and hard cheeses. (True, some low-fat hard cheeses don't melt as well in cooking.) Part-skim ricotta cheese or mozzarella are good lower-fat substitutes, though there are also fat-free versions. Try stronger cheeses such as Gruyere, Gorgonzola or Parmesan to add maximum flavor per ounce.

Butter and Margarine
The problem with butter is its high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol; the trouble with margarine (especially stick margarine) can be the amount of trans fats, which arise from the hydrogenation process that converts liquid vegetable oils into solid fat. Tub margarine and liquid spread contain fewer or no trans fats, and some spreads contain special ingredients that actively lower bad cholesterol. These would be better choices.

Eggs
Yes, they do contain high levels of dietary cholesterol, yet in other ways, they pack a heavy nutritional punch, as they are a great source of vitamins and minerals. But you can always use egg whites or egg substitutes instead, especially if you have to watch your cholesterol. And even if you don't, use whole eggs sparingly.

Meat
Fresh meat and deli meats should be as lean as possible. Watch out for sodium content in the latter. Substitute turkey or chicken hot dogs for beef ones, and try veggie burgers instead of beef patties. Choose chicken and turkey over red meat, but you're not confined only to poultry; pork tenderloin is now considered as lean as a skinless chicken breast.

Fish
Fish--preferably fresh fish rather than high-fat fish sticks--should be consumed at least twice a week. Be sure to include even the fattier variety such as salmon, since it contains high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

We can use only what we have at hand on our kitchens, so make sure your pantry and refrigerator are stocked with plenty of low-fat, nutritious ingredients to help you create healthy meals for the whole family. Here are some low-fat staples in my kitchen, and 20 handy tips for cutting fat in cooking.

Here are some frequently asked questions to satiate your appetite for information on low-fat foods.