Fat is everywhere, hidden or invisible in many foods. The war on fat has been raging since the 1950s when President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, and war was declared on the supposed culprit (1).
From then on, all dietary blogs, health networks, and doctors across North America funded fat-free alternatives, health campaigns showing the damaging effects of fat, and education programs targeting fat reduction.
Fast-food chains and convenience food companies sought to adapt by quickly offering alternatives to traditionally high-fat foods like baked instead of deep-fried and salad instead of fries.
But fat is sneaky, it hides invisibly in many foods. And while fat isn’t the enemy and some fat is okay, it’s important to be aware of where you’re getting fat in your diet.
Several of the foods we eat daily include high levels of hidden fat; they can boost your fat consumption to an unhealthy level and add unwanted calories to your daily diet.
10 foods with hidden or invisible fat
Mayonnaise is one of our top hidden fat foods, particularly because mayonnaise-based salad dressing is a major source of accidentally consumed calories. Mayonnaise is oil, eggs, water, and a blend of other ingredients containing 70-80% fat (2).
A touch of mayonnaise in your sandwich or meal isn’t the end of the world, but it isn’t a low-calorie food. Ingredients like chestnut starch are now used to thicken up fat-free mayonnaise, which can be an excellent alternative to typical high-fat mayonnaise (3).
- Nuts and nut products
Nuts are important for your health. Check out “The World’s Healthiest Nuts.” Containing a wealth of nutrients, there is a variety of nuts to choose from, including sweet peanuts, tangy almonds, and rich Brazil nuts. However, the catch with nuts is their fat content (4).
They are very high in natural fats, many of which are healthy, but a little goes a long way, and a small handful of nuts is all you really need at a time.
- Coffee Cream
Our favorite addition to that perfect morning beverage and liquid energy for the day has a dark side. Coffee cream, as the taste and name suggest, is extremely high in fat, containing 10% or more in a standard carton.
Whipping cream is 30% or more fat (5). Considering milk that we drink is typically 2% or less, coffee cream is one of the highest fat dairy products we routinely consume.
- Peanut butter
We already noted that nuts carry a high level of fat, but unfortunately, this also goes for a popular favorite sandwich duo. The peanut butter in a jam sandwich provides long-lasting energy and protein but also carries a significant amount of fat. Peanuts are high in triacylglycerols, which can harden arteries and cause heart disease if you overindulge (6).
If you want extremely low-fat peanut butter, you can get a “reduced-fat” version, which contains at least 90% peanuts and uses peanut flour mixed with water, or you can stick to natural peanut butter, which doesn’t have additional fats (containing only ground peanuts and a bit of salt) (7). Both are a healthier choice if you’re watching your fat intake.
- Potato chips
Potatoes are much less healthy when you fry them in oil. Because they absorb the oil they’re cooked in, you’re consuming those extra fatty calories, which provide no nutritional benefit (8). Even though we know they’re unhealthy, most of us indulge now and then, but a recent US study reminds us all that potato chip intake is an unhealthy dietary addition, particularly when it comes to high blood pressure (elevated by fat and salt) (9).
Cheese is another high-fat dairy food that is oh-so-delicious but should be consumed in moderation. The high-fat content of cheese can contribute to high cholesterol and other health problems (10).
While it isn’t a terrible addition to your diet, be mindful of how much you’re consuming! For those of us who just can’t get enough cheese, there are now low-fat varieties that don’t compromise that cheesy taste (11).
- Red meat
Picture that steak, ribboned with white fat, lined with fat, and creamy in texture like, well, you see where I’m going with this. Meat is good for protein but high in fat. Red meat has long been associated with type II diabetes, inflammatory conditions, carcinoma, and cardiovascular diseases (12).
While some diets target low carbohydrate and high protein, it’s healthiest to limit your consumption of red meat, particularly for your cardiovascular system (13).
- Baked pastries
That enticing case of pastries at your local bakery calling your name on a crisp autumn morning is another source of hidden fat (14). The flaky layers of pastry are achieved by layering oil or butter and baking it in the oven. We, humans, are wired to love the taste, but it isn’t healthy for our bodies (15).
I surprised you, didn’t I? Yogurt is good for replenishing your gut bacteria (as these “13 Best Prebiotic Foods to Eat”), but thick creamy yogurts like Greek yogurt can be high in fat. Going back to that cardiovascular disease, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and equivalents in other countries is a great place to start when looking into the leading source of protein and dairy with the lowest associated fat (16).
That said, high-fat yogurt has been shown to have some compelling health benefits, including lowing the risk of depression (17). More research on this is likely on the way.
- Cereal bars and granola
Like many foods on this list, cereal bars and granola are not bad for you, but they do hide a high level of fat, depending on the brand you purchase. Granola typically uses peanut butter or oils to bind it together, and cereal bars are high in palm oil and other fats to give them that blended and creamy texture.
In fact, some studies have found that store-bought granola-based cereal can contain as much fat as a slice of chocolate cake (18). So choose your cereal/granola wisely!
This list of 10 foods with hidden or invisible fat included serves as a reminder that reading the ingredient list of your foods is important! Knowing what is in your food is a vital first step in taking control of your health and striding toward a healthy future.
It all starts with what’s on your plate. Knowing how to reduce unnecessary fats is an easy way to reduce calories and improve cardiovascular health.