Controlling Your Fat Intake

You eat a healthy diet, high in fresh vegetables and fruits and complex carbohydrates, and low in fat or is it? You may unwittingly he eating more fat than you think, dietary fat that may be sabotaging your physique and your health.

Studies show that most North Americans unknowingly consume far too much fat. Typically, half of our calories come from fat, while the recommended percentage is 30% or less.

The evidence linking fat to both cardiovascular diseases and cancer is grim. We wish we could disregard it, but in areas like North America and Finland, where cholesterol consumption is highest, heart attack rates are also the highest.

With rare exception, the fatter you are, the higher your cholesterol. The risk of coronary artery disease increases and gradually accelerates with a blood cholesterol count above 150. Above 200 it increases rapidly. In countries where fat consumption is low, such as Japan, breast and bowel cancer are far less common than in Canada and the United States. However, some Americans (Utah Mormons and Mexican-Americans) have only 60% the national average of colon cancer, which leads to the belief that other foods, such as those high in fiber, help limit cancer growth.

Although the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services recommend we eat less foods with saturated fats and cholesterol, other nutrition sources warn that cholesterol and fat intake during growth years is necessary for the nervous system and for the production of bile acids and hormones.

Trying to eliminate all fat from your diet would be a mistake. Fat is an essential nutrient and serves many functions in your body. It is the medium for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, F and K and S the "essential" fatty acids that the body cannot manufacture. It also provides the flavors, aromas and textures we find so pleasing in our food, and promotes a feeling of fullness and satisfaction by its inhibitory effect on digestion. Too little fat could lead to a vitamin deficiency, and the ongoing cultural drive for slimness could cause this problem.

Stored bodyfat is high in energy, nine calories per gram, but it's not easy to tap that energy. Normal daily activity is mostly glycogen-powered so that we don't get out of breath reaching for the change in our pocket. Fat is emergency fuel, which the body wisely stores whenever possible. It seems to know that sooner or later it will be called upon to provide the energy for such activities as aerobics, running or hard bodybuilding training. But in excess, stored fat is costly in terms of health, appearance and social acceptance.

As we continue to crusade for the fashionable lean bodies, we confront the difficulty of eliminating fats from our diets. The problem is, fat is hidden in many foods we do not regard as fatty, or worse, those we can't seem to live without. Those crisp whole-grain crackers that you munch so dutifully may have lots of oil. So does nutritious peanut butter. And your low-fat milk has only slightly less fat than whole milk. Your leanest ground meat that guarantees no more than 15% fat is still far too fatty.

Be careful of food charts that list fats by volume percentages. For example, by composition, whole milk is about 3.5% fat. However, since milk is about 87% water, by volume it seems low in fat, but by another criterion, it is a fat food, with over 50% of its food energy derived from fat. A glass of milk contains 32 protein calories, 48 carbohydrate calories and 81 fat calories. Low-fat or nonfat milk would be the wiser choice.

Cheese is a good source of protein, but beware of its fat content. An ounce of good old cheddar does have protein — seven grams that contribute 28 calories. But it has 9.4 grams of fat, 85 calories' worth. How's that for a protein" food that's a fat food in disguise?

Endurance athletes (runners, swimmers, bodybuilders) need much carbohydrate, up to 60% of their daily caloric intake, to replace the glycogen stores used in training and competition. Bodybuilders particularly recognize the need for keeping fat intake low. They know their degree of muscularity is often limited only by their degree of subcutaneous fat.

Most of us are aware of the need to limit our fat intake, yet we are unaware of where fat lurks in our food. Beware of such popular foods as pizza, pasta with sauce, ice cream, cottage cheese and white chowders. Much of their calorie content comes from fat. Watch out even for lite" beer and wine. Lite beer has no fat, but two-thirds of its calories (about 100 calories per bottle) arc derived from alcohol and the other third from carbohydrate. Calories that the liver can't metabolize are turned into triglycerides — what we know as fat.

Excessive fat intake stimulates the production of cholesterol in the body. Foods of animal origin are generally high in cholesterol and saturated fat.

Throughout the world, societies that consume a lot of polyunsaturated fats in the form of seafood and vegetable oils have lower rates of cancer, heart disease and many other diseases common to industrialized societies. The lower rate of cardiovascular disease in Mediterranean people may be due to the large consumption of olive oil, which consists mostly of monounsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats are generally of vegetable origin, but they are also found in fish and poultry. On the other hand, vegetable oils such as coconut and palm oils are high in saturated fat. The polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils (depending on their chemical makeup) found in safflower, corn, sunflower and such oils are believed to lower cholesterol levels.

You don't want to eliminate all fat from your diet, but to keep fat within recommended limits. Fats should provide no more than 30% of your daily calories, with no more than one-third of that saturated fat.

You can still enjoy foods of animal origin and obtain their valuable nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals; if you can recognize and avoid hidden fats. First, learn to read and understand the nutrition listings on labels and in food charts. Take your basic burger, for example. Four ounces of ground beef has over 20 grams of muscle-building protein. But wait. Look at the fat content – 24 grams. Convert those grams to calories and you see your burger has about 80 calories (20 multiplied by four) from protein, but a whopping 216 calories (24 times nine) from fat, mostly saturated fat. Even if you eliminate some of that fat in cooking (depending on how you cook your burger), you'll still have a fatty patty.

Become fat-conscious. Remember that fat has more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrate. Read those labels. In your head, multiply that fat gram figure by nine to determine how many calories per serving come from fat. Then decide whether that food belongs in your bodybuilding diet.

Here are general guidelines for cutting the fat from your diet:

  • Avoid fried foods
  • Avoid processed meats
  • Use low-fat or nonfat dairy products
  • Trim all fat from meat before cooking; remove skin from poultry.
  • Avoid so-called "choice" fat marbled meats
  • Eat more fish and poultry, less fatty red meat
  • Avoid rich pastries
  • Skim the fat from soups or stews
  • Eat raw salads and fresh fruit Limit the oils, butter, margarine, shortening or lard used in and on foods.

A regular bodybuilding program along with aerobic exercise will help moderate your appetite. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, but know what you're in your mouth. Be careful or those tasty prepared "carbohydrate" foods. You may by getting more than you bargained for in the devious form of hidden fats.

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