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The Fat Factor

In discussions about food, we hear the word "fat" and immediately consider it "bad." We hear that fatty food causes obesity, so we avoid any type of fatty food, from nuts to red meat. We fill our grocery carts with low-fat foods and steer far away from the "bad" foods.
 
Have we gone too far in banning fats from our diet? Nutritionists think so, when it comes to making food choices. We have swung the pendulum too far to one side of the spectrum.
 
A recent survey conducted by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) found that a whopping seventy-two percent of adults believe foods can be separated into "good" and "bad" categories. "This finding tells us that consumers need further guidance in balancing individual food choices over time to create sound eating patterns," said Sara C. Parks, R. D., president of the ADA.
 
Recently, nutritionists have been saying that any food can fit into a healthy diet. We need to pay attention to the total amount of fat and calories we consume in a day. "They need to be shown that foods are not 'good' and 'bad' (and that) one's overall diet, not individual foods, should contain thirty percent or less calories from fat," Parks said.
 
The body needs some fat to function properly. Fat provides energy for daily activities and helps supply important nutrients for the body. But eating too much fat increases the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, overweight, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
 
Managing the amount of fat we eat involves balance and moderation. In an average diet, half the total calories for the day should come from carbohydrates, thirty percent should come from fat, and twenty percent should come from protein.
 
"When dieting, most people reduce their caloric intake so low that they actually put their bodies into a starvation mode," said Shannon L. Entin, a certified fitness instructor and a member of the International Association of Fitness Professionals. "When the body thinks it's starving, it will attempt to conserve as much energy as possible. Your metabolism will slow down in order to day functional, and the body will hold on to body fat as an energy reserve."
 
Entin, whose clients range form high-powered health clubs to low-budget YMCAs, said dieters who want to lose body fat should reduce the fat calories in their diet to ten to twenty percent. Calories from carbohydrates should then be lowered to forty to fifty percent of the daily total, and calories from protein should be raised to thirty to forty percent.
 
Food labels can help. The "Nutritional Facts" panel on food package labels can help you keep track of the amount of fat you eat. The percentage daily value for fat gives a tentative idea of how much fat you will get from one serving of a particular food, based on a two thousand-calorie diet. ) Remember the two thousand-calorie reference is just that, and individuals may require more of less calories depending on such factors as gage, activity level, and sex.) For example, a 1.4-ounce bar of milk chocolate has a nineteen percent daily value for fat. In other words, that chocolate bar contains about one-fifth of the daily fat allowance for someone who consumes about two thousand calories a day.
 
Those "Nutritional Facts" labels on food containers have even more information about the foods we eat. The first three items on the label are fat (including saturated fat), cholesterol, and sodium.
 
There are nine calories per gram of fat. To determine how much fat a food has by reading the label, multiply the number of fat grams by nine, and then divide that number by the total number of calories in the food. If the answer is above thirty percent, it is a high-fat food.
 
The next two items on the label are carbohydrates (including dietary fiber and sugars), and protein. Carbos have four calories per gram. Protein has four calories per gram. There are many sources of protein, and too much (above fifty percent of calories) over a long period of time can damage the kidneys and steal calcium from the bones, leading to osteoporosis and other problems.
The key to choosing the right foods is not the think of them as "good" or "bad." Instead, the key is to understand the food labels and remember the proper ratio of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that we should consume each day.
"One more thing for you to remember if you want to lose weight is to always exercise," added Entin. "Exercise will burn excess calories and increase your energy level. You will not lose weight permanently by dieting alone. So get going: Put yourself on a good exercise program and read those food labels at the market."

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