Due to an obsession with fat, many people have forgotten that calories count. Studies indicate that when people eat reduced-fat and fat-free foods, they tend to use them as an excuse to eat more. As registered dietitian Joan Horbiak writes in "50 Ways to Lose Ten Pounds": "We're eating fat-free, but in industrial-sized portions."
So what's the bottom line?
To maintain a healthy weight, it's important to eat low-fat foods -- but remember to consider the calories.
Some fat-free foods -- such as dairy products, cheeses and salad dressings -- offer fat and calorie savings. However, some fat-free snacks and bakery products contain as many calories as their regular-fat counterparts.
When a food product is labeled "fat-free," does it really contain no fat?
Food labeling regulations adopted in 1993 define "fat-free" as having less than 0.5 grams fat per serving and no added ingredient that is a fat or generally understood by consumers to contain fat -- unless it is marked with an asterisk referring to the statement "adds a trivial amount of fat," "adds a negligible amount of fat" or "adds a dietarily insignificant amount of fat."
So food products labeled "fat-free" may still contain a trivial amount of fat.
For example, I checked a fat-free margarine label. It indicates that one serving (1 tablespoon) contains 0 grams of total fat, yet I learned the rest of the story by reading the list of ingredients.
Listed there are "vegetable mono and diglycerides*" with this explanation: "*Adds a negligible amount of fat." Yes, you guessed it, mono and diglycerides are fat.
However, I hope you are not overly concerned about the trivial amounts of fats in foods labeled "fat-free."
It is important to continually look at the whole picture when it comes to healthful food choices. Those foods labeled "fat-free" or "low-fat" should be used only as a part of a diet already rich in grains, fruits and vegetables.
To meet the Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for fat, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol:
l choose low-fat dairy products;
l opt for moderate portions of lean meats, poultry without skin, and fish (keep total amount to 5 ounces to 7 ounces per day);
l use low-fat cooking methods at home;
l select broiled or roasted entrees when eating out;
l reduce amounts of fats, such as butter, added at the table;
l use liquid vegetable oils rather than solid fats and shortening whenever possible; and
l avoid high-fat bakery products and chips.
It seems like we're hung up on what we should and shouldn't eat. Why can't we just enjoy good-tasting, healthful food?
It's a good idea to rethink the way we eat to better control weight and energize an active lifestyle. This creates a relaxed and sensible eating style that's also healthful.
Here's the latest on food, fitness and fueling:
l Out: "Good" food, "bad" food biases. In: Moderation.
Nutritionally speaking, there aren't any good or bad foods. When eaten in moderation, all foods fit. Because no single food provides all the nutrients our bodies need, it's important to eat a variety of wholesome foods each day.
l Out: Counting calories as equals. In: Looking at where calories come from.
All calories are not created equal. Bite for bite, complex carbs like those in grain foods have four calories per gram whereas a gram of fat has nine calories.
l Out: Diets that avoid starches or grains. In: Eating grains to fuel an active, low-fat lifestyle.
Complex carbohydrates found in grains are one of the main sources of energy for working muscles. Nutrition experts recommend eating six to 11 servings of grain foods -- such as whole-wheat bread, rice or cereal -- each day.
l Out: Broccoli-bashing. In: Thriving on five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Fruits and vegetables help keep you healthy and reduce the risk of disease. While naturally low in calories, fat and sodium, fruits and vegetables are also cholesterol-free and generally rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber.
l Out: Skipping meals. In: Eating regular meals that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates.
Severe calorie restriction actually undermines weight-loss efforts by reducing body metabolism. The result? You tend to lose muscle, not fat, and you rob your body of essential nutrients.
l Out: Complicated diet plans. In: Budgeting fat.
Keep your diet lean and healthful by replacing high-fat foods with low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. For example, if you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, choose lower-fat options the rest of the day.
l Out: Weigh loss, fad and crash diets. In: The Food Guide Pyramid.
The pyramid, developed by the Department of Agriculture, shows the kinds of foods you should eat -- and in what proportions -- to look and feel your best. The goal: Eat more of the foods at the base, such as breads, pastas, vegetables and fruits.
l Out: Running on empty. In: Body fueling.
Keep tabs on food intake and activity level. The goal is to eat often enough to provide a steady supply of carbohydrates, essential nutrients and fiber. Complex carbohydrates provide a slow, sustained release of energy.
l Out: Protein-centered meals. In: Grain-based menus.
Move grains to the center of the plate. Shift meat, poultry and fish to side dish or accompaniment status. Round out the menu with plenty of vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products. Plan at least two servings of grains at each meal.
l Out: Dairy fat. In: Dietary calcium.
No matter your age, aim for three servings of calcium-rich foods every day. Select lower-fat dairy products such as skim milk, low-fat cheese and nonfat yogurt.
l Out: Three "squares" per day, no matter what. In: Personal eating styles.
Nibbling a number of small meals throughout the day helps maintain a sensible weight and energy level more effectively than eating three larger meals.
-- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.