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Making low-fat choices can maximize health

March 27, 2001

Making low-fat choices can maximize health



The average American eats more than the recommended amount of fat each day. High-fat diets are linked to a greater risk of heart disease, increased risk of obesity and some types of cancer.

Fat is what makes many foods taste so flavorful. It gives a smooth and creamy texture to foods like ice cream and peanut butter.

It makes meats and baked goods moist and tender, or brown and crispy.

Fats have 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories each per gram of proteins and carbohydrates. But different types of fat may not have the same effect on your health. While U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend taking in no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat, they recommend no more than 10 percent of them come from saturated fats.

Saturated fats tend to raise blood cholesterol levels. They are usually solid at room temperature. Animal fats - such as butter, the fat in meats and cheeses, and some vegetable oils, such as coconut and palm kernel oils - are high in saturated fats.

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Average American women and some sedentary men eat about 2,000 calories per day, while most men and active women need about 2,500. This equals about 65 total fat grams and 18 grams of saturated fat per day for women, and 80 grams of total fat and 27 grams of saturated fat per day for men and active women.

You can learn how much fat your food has by reading labels. The typical calories, total fat and saturated fat, serving size and how many servings are in a package is on the Nutrition Facts panel.

Some foods are labeled as low-fat or reduced-fat. Each term has a different meaning. Fat-free or nonfat foods have less than half a gram of fat per serving. Low-fat means 3 grams or less per serving.

Reduced fat or less fat means at least 25 percent less fat per serving compared with a serving of the same food in its original form. Lean foods have less than 10 grams of total fat and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat in a 3-ounce serving. Extra-lean foods have less than 5 grams of total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat in a 3-ounce serving.

You need some fat in the food you eat, but choose sensibly.

Aim for a daily total fat intake of no more than 30 percent of your calories.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County. Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

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