It is important to consume some fat, since it is an essential nutrient. However, a diet relatively low in fat can be an important tool for overall health in terms of weight management, cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, and in managing symptoms in some gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. Fat can increase bowel transit time, which may cause symptoms such as diarrhea and cramping. There are different types of fat, and some are better for us than others.

Unsaturated fats are best for the body. There are two types of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats, found in plant sources, are generally liquid or soft at room temperature and include oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, non-hydrogenated margarine, and olives. Omega 3-fatty acids are also a type of unsaturated fat, found in fish, omega 3-fatty acid eggs, flax, canola oil, soybeans, and other fortified products.

Saturated fats are not not as healthy for the body. This type of fat, found in palm and coconut oils and in all fat from animal sources, is solid at room temperature. Examples of foods high in saturated fat are: meat, poultry, cheese, cream sauces, cream, cream dressings, bacon, lard, cream cheese, eggs, sour cream, milk and yogurt that are >1% MF (milk fat), milk chocolate, and any packaged item cooked with palm or coconut oil.

Trans-fats or hydrogenated fats are the worst fats for the body. Trans-fats occur when a liquid fat at room temperature is processed to become solid at room temperature. You will find trans-fats in some baked goods and snack items, shortening, fried foods, potato chips, stick margarine, and processed foods. Read food labels and avoid products that contain hydrogenated oils.

Whether unsaturated, saturated, or hydrogenated, all fats can cause an increase of symptoms for some individuals with GI conditions. If you need to follow a low-fat diet to reduce symptoms, follow the advice in the tips listed below.


Things To Do

  • Buy low fat food items.
  • Choose lean meats and skinless chicken (even prior to cooking). Trim the fat away on meats and chicken.
  • Choose milk and yogurt that are 1% MF (milk fat) or fat free.
  • Use milk in coffee instead of cream or creamers.
  • Eat less cheese and low fat cheese! Choose a hard cheese that is less than 15% MF and soft cheeses (cottage cheese) that are 2% MF or less.
  • Eat a maximum of 2-4 egg yolks per week.
  • Choose low-fat/fat free sour cream and cream cheese.
  • When choosing a fat or oil, use a vegetable oil such as canola oil or olive oil and a non-hydrogenated margarine instead of butter.
  • Use spices or vegetable-based sauces instead of cream or butter based sauces when cooking.
  • Use low-fat/fat-free mayonnaise.
  • Use a cooking spray instead of oil, butter, or margarine.
  • Try using a fat-free sour cream or salsa on a baked potato instead of butter/margarine.
  • Have fruit for dessert.
  • Eat a diet rich in omega 3-fatty acids; eat fish rich in omega 3-fatty acids, choose omega 3-eggs, and add 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds to your food daily.
  • Indulge in a high fat item 1-2 times a week, maximum.


Things to Avoid/Limit

  • Reduce intake of avocado.
  • Reduce intake of nuts to 6-10 nuts/day
  • Avoid foods in heavy sauces or gravies.
  • Avoid frying food. Bake, grill, or broil instead.
  • Limit total portions of animal products (e.g. eggs, cheese, meat, and poultry) to < 6 oz. per day.
  • Reduce salad dressing portions or buy fat free salad dressings.
  • Don’t add margarine or butter to a sandwich or bread.
  • Limit intake of chocolate. Instead, try 1% MF chocolate milk, low fat chocolate pudding, low fat hot chocolate, fat free fudgecicles, chocolate frozen yogurt, or 1-2 squares of dark chocolate.
  • Limit intake of potato chips and fried food. Instead, try baked potato chips, rice cakes, or home-made French fries.
  • Limit intake of packaged foods made with palm and coconut oils.
  • Reduce intake of baked goods, such as cakes, muffins, pies, cookies, tea biscuits, and scones. Make your own low fat alternatives.
  • Avoid bacon, butter, cream, cream sauces, cream dressings, cream soups, ice cream, and lard.
  • Try not to add butter, margarine, or oil to food. Instead, try butter-flavoured spices, various other spices, or cooking spray.

Naomi Orzech, Dietitian
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 153 – January/February 2006
Content last updated 2017-09-12.