Every day in grocery stores across America, people read the nutrition labels on foods looking for fat content. There are very good reasons for zeroing in on this important number. Eating too much fat contributes to widening waistlines because our bodies store the extra calories we consume for future famines (which most likely never occur). High-fat diets are also associated with increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer, especially colorectal, breast and prostate cancer.
Presently, fat accounts for between 35 and 40 percent of many Americans' total calories. That's really too high. Dropping fat calories from 20 to 30 percent of our total calories helps shed excess pounds and lowers blood cholesterol levels.
Watching the Fat
Look for the actual grams of fat per serving on the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods. Grocery stores are encouraged to post nutrition information for the fresh meat and poultry near the meat cases. Always compare the portion size listed on the Nutrition Facts label with the amount you usually eat.
Ignore the percentages and the calories from fat for a specific food. Your goal is to keep your total fat intake for the whole day within your healthy fat intake.
Counting the fat in foods you buy in restaurants is tricky. Most fast-food chains publish the nutritional value of their foods in brochures that are free for the asking. When nutrition information is not available, use several "fat-skimming" strategies:
- Order small portions or share a meal with a friend.
- Take half of anything you order home and use it later for another meal.
- Ask for salad dressings, sour cream, butter and margarine on the side. Rather than pouring your dressing over a salad, dip the tines of your fork into the dressing and then spear a bite of salad.
You might think that eating fat-free foods is an easy way to guarantee good health. This simple solution has several drawbacks.
- Fat-free does not mean calorie-free. Too many calories from sugars and starches add extra weight, too.
- Most fat-free and reduced-fat foods contain more sodium than their regular versions. Extra salt makes up for the flavor loss when manufacturers cut the fat. If you're cutting fat to help your blood pressure, beware!
- We need some fat to help absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are key to all the processes that take place in your body. Rigidly eating only fat-free foods means missing the benefits that whole grains and small amounts of vegetable oils offer.