Trimming the Fat

Your body needs very little dietary fat in order to maintain a good level of health. This may be due to the fact that fats and oils are quite dense in potential energy. One gram of fat contains about 9 calories. This is a lot when compared to carbohydrates and proteins, which contain 4 calories per gram.

Although fats are a necessary part of your diet, it is important for you to understand that not all fats are the same. There are two types of fat found in food: saturated and unsaturated fats. Both kinds of fat are found in most foods to some degree. Plant oils tend to have more unsaturated fats while animal fats usually have more saturated fats. Nutritionists recommend dietary choices that have more unsaturated fats than saturated ones. The reason for this is that some unsaturated fats are referred to as “essential” nutrients, or essential fatty acids. These “essential” nutrients are not produced by your body but are needed by it in order for it to perform a number of essential functions. Also, saturated fats have been shown to raise cholesterol levels, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

FACT

The average American's diet consists of about three times the amount of fat that is needed, and in many cases the fats are derived from saturated rather than unsaturated and essential fats.

Does Fat Make You Fat?

Since the 1980s, food manufacturers have introduced a variety of “fat-free” or “reduced fat” versions of numerous popular food products to the grocery store shelf. Don't let phrases such as “non-fat” or “fat-free” fool you. The important thing to keep in mind is that when the fat is removed from the food, something has to be put in to replace it.

Unfortunately, what usually replaces this removed fat is sugar. It is very difficult to reduce both the amount of fat as well as the sugar that is in a food product while maintaining a pleasant taste. For this reason, many low-fat or no-fat products are actually just as high (and sometimes even higher) in calories as regular foods. Most of the time, a fat-free or reduced-fat food product has just as many calories as the original product. Remember, just because a product says “reduced fat” or “fat free” does not mean you can eat more of it without consequence. Most are only fat free until they hit your lips.

ALERT

There is a saying among some nutritionists and dieticians that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.” What they mean is that removing or reducing the amount of fat in a food product does absolutely no good if the amount of calories is not also reduced. Portion-size reduction is a better method. Think of it this way: Wouldn't you prefer to have just one or two great-tasting cookies than four or five low-fat-and-not-so-awful-that-you-won't-eat-them tasting cookies?

However, when it comes to dairy products, you can safely choose low-fat or reduced-fat products. Milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and other dairy products can have reduced fat with very little sugar added. Full-fat dairy products don't taste that much different from their reduced-fat counterparts, so you can cut back the amount of calories by going with a reduced-fat dairy product.

Choosing 2 percent or skim milk over whole milk will cut down on the amount of calories you consume. Of course, dairy fats are derived from animal fat, which can lead to an increase in your body's level of bad cholesterol. An increase in bad cholesterol may put you at a higher risk for heart disease.

Picking Your Fats

Foods with good types of fats include:

Avocado

Olive oil

Canola oil

Salmon

Sea bass

Nuts

Nut butters

Tofu

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