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10 Tips for Reducing Fat in Your Diet

By Sandy Markiewicz, RD, MBA - for Global Health & Fitness

By now you know that too much fat--especially saturated fat--is not good for you. Your body can easily store excess calories from fat as body fat. Plus, saturated fats from animal products, such as meats and dairy foods, can clog your arteries and contribute to heart disease.

But be careful. Although reducing dietary fat is important, eliminating all fat from your diet is not at all healthy. Fat is an essential nutrient that produces energy for daily activities and supplies the body with vitamins A, D and E, which are needed for healthy skin and optimal growth. The body cannot produce fat on its own; it must be provided through dietary intake. For these reasons you should enjoy some fats in your diet, especially monounsaturated fats like olive oil. The key is moderation--not elimination.

Fat Facts

Dietary fat is found in both animal and plant foods. There are three basic classifications of fat: (1) monounsaturated, (2) polyunsaturated and (3) saturated. Unsaturated fats--especially monounsaturated fats--are considered the "healthier" ones. Sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and soft margarine products.

Research indicates that an excessive intake of saturated fats tends to raise blood cholesterol levels, thereby increasing risk for heart disease. Animal products--such as beef, butter, dairy products and lard--typically contain more saturated fat than do vegetable products. But some vegetable oils, such as coconut and palm oil (also known as tropical oils), contain large amounts of saturated fat.

There's also an unclassified newcomer in the fat realm--trans fatty acid. Trans fatty acids are the end products of a process called hydrogenation, in which vegetable oils are hardened. The implications that trans fatty acids may play a negative role on health is currently being reviewed, but many nutrition professionals are already advising a limited intake.

The Bottom Line

Health authorities recommend that Americans consume 30 percent or less of their total daily calories from fat, with 10 percent or less of those calories from saturated fat. Use the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels to help determine how much fat is in food. The following chart can help guide your fat intake. Determine how many calories are in your diet and use the chart to discover how many grams of fat are in 30 percent and 10 percent of your calorie intake. Remember, the recommended percentages refer to your total fat intake over time, not the fat in single foods or meals.

 Calories per Day  Total Fat per Day (grams)  Total Saturated Fat per Day (grams)
 1,200  40 or less  13 or less
 1,600  53 or less  18 or less
 2,000  67 or less  22 or less
 2,200  73 or less  24 or less
 2,500  83 or less  27 or less

10 Tips to Reduce Fat

To help cut down on your fat intake, use the following tips when preparing foods:

1. Use evaporated skim milk instead of cream when preparing sauces or desserts.

2. Create your own nonfat salad dressing by mixing balsamic vinegar, mustard and herbs. If you really prefer an oil-based dressing, try using three parts vinegar to one part oil.

3. Drain nonfat yogurt through a sieve or cheesecloth overnight in the refrigerator, and use in recipes that call for cream.

4. Saute foods in chicken broth, vegetable stock, tomato juice or wine instead of frying them in oil or butter.

5. Keep olive oil in a spray bottle to a lightly coat sauté pans.

6. You can make your own taco shells. Hang soft corn tortillas directly over the oven rack (with the sides of the tortilla hanging down) and bake at 400 degrees until they're crisp. (Taco shells sold in supermarkets are usually fried.)

7. Whip up your own french fries. Place _-inch-thick potato slices on a nonstick baking pan and coat with a light spray of oil. Sprinkle with paprika or salt, and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Turn once during baking. (For a different flavor, try this recipe with sweet potatoes.)

8. To maximize flavor, toast nuts before baking with them. That way, you'll be able to use less. Or sprinkle nuts on top of a home-baked dessert instead of mixing them into the batter.

9. Substitute six egg whites plus one whole egg for every three eggs in your favorite recipes.

10. Substitute an equal amount of applesauce or any baby-food fruits for up to half of the total oil in your favorite dessert recipes. Strained prunes actually enhance the chocolate flavor in brownies!

Sandy Markiewicz, RD, MBA, is the president of Nutrition Marketing Consultants, a consulting firm based in Chicago, Illinois, that designs nutrition programs for personal trainers, health clubs, corporations and individuals.

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