The less fat goes into your mouth, the less fat is deposited in your body. The healthiest diet not only has less total fat, but also has more of the right kind of fats.
- Eat the right amount and right kinds of fat. How much fat is the right amount depends upon the age of the eater. As a general guide:
- During the first year, infants need 40-50 percent of their daily calories from fat, since growing brains and bodies needs a lot of extra energy.
- For most children and teens, 30 percent of daily calories from fat is plenty.
- Most adults, depending on your general health, activity level, and body type, need 15-25 percent of total calories from fat. As you get older, the percentage of total daily calories you need from fat usually declines.
- Eat the right kinds of fat. What kind of fats you eat is as important as the total amount of fat you eat. Two-thirds of the fats eaten daily should be unsaturated, and one-third or less saturated. (In fact, it’s not essential that you eat any saturated fats, since your body makes all the saturated fats its needs.) In a diet with 30 percent of calories from fat, less than 10 percent of the total daily calories should be in the form of saturated fats. There are 9 calories per gram of fat, so a person needing 2,500 calories a day, with 20 percent of those calories coming from fat (i.e., 500 calories), should consume less than 55 to 60 grams (500 calories ? by 9 grams) of total fat in a day. Of that total, no more than 15 to 20 grams should be saturated fats (i.e., animal fats), and around 40 grams should be unsaturated fats, half of which should be monounsaturated fatty acids (found in vegetable oils) and half polyunsaturated fats (primarily from seafood and plant-food sources).
- Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. Fats that flow or swim (primarily monounsaturated fats, such as oil and fish fats) are better for you than fat that just sits there (primarily saturated fats, such as animal fats). Hydrogenated fats have been shown to lower HDL (“good cholesterol), raise LDL (“bad cholesterol”), raise harmful fats in the bloodstream (called “apolipo-protein B”), and generally raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Emphasize fats from plants rather than animal sources. Fats derived from plants contain more essential fatty acids and are predominantly unsaturated fats. Also, plants contain more fiber than animal foods, which gives you a feeling of fullness sooner and tends to reduce the total number of calories consumed.
- Use lowfat or nonfat alternatives, especially in dairy products, such as fat-free or lowfat yogurt, frozen yogurt, lowfat cheeses, and skim or one-percent milk. Some kinds of cheese have less fat than others, for example, skim-milk mozzarella. Besides lowfat dairy products, use reduced-fat salad dressings, mayonnaise, and margarine.
- Choose leaner cuts of meat and poultry. Trim the skin off the poultry before cooking. Choose white meat chicken over dark meat, which contains over twice as much fat as white meat. Turkey meat is lower in fat than chicken. A ground turkey burger tends to contain less fat than a lean ground beef burger. (Read the label to be certain.) To really serve a lower fat beef patty, buy a very lean cut of meat and ask the butcher to grind it up into hamburger.
- Use lower fat toppings. Opt for yogurt or “lite” sour cream instead of regular sour cream on baked potatoes, and in dips and sauces.
- Shun fast-food restaurants. Children especially tend to eat more food that has been cooked or saturated with fat. It’s up to parents to be in charge of the nutritional content of the meal.
- Try alternatives to frying. Instead of french fries, sprinkle potato slices (even sweet potato slices) with olive oil and bake. Poach fish and chicken in broth or steam them in the microwave.
- Avoid fat substitutes. These man-made molecules may taste like fat to the tongue, but they don’t act like fat in the intestines, causing consumers to believe they can indulge in fat-laden foods without getting fat. All factory fats do is foster fat cravings instead of lowering the appetite and raising an appreciation for lowfat foods. You can’t fool the intestines without paying a nutritional price.
In determining how much of the right kinds of fat to consume, take some tips from your body. Fats make up 15 to 22 percent of your body’s weight, so these same percentages should fit your diet. Also, the most important organs (brain, heart, kidneys) contain the most unsaturated fats and essential fatty acid and so should your diet. If your diet fat matches your body fat, you’re on the right fat track.