Posted on December 31, 2014 at 20:46 PM
Back in the days — think the years following World War I — U.S. society witnessed a sea change in fashion and body image. The curvaceous figure of the Gibson Girl, the female ideal of beauty, was out, replaced by the rail-thin, waist-less figure of the flapper.
This change ushered in stronger weight-loss measures — thyroid extracts, reducing creams and rolling pins that promised to “roll off the fat.” Calorie counting also gained in popularity as a failure-proof, scientific approach to weight loss.
For trivia-minded readers, the term calorie — a French-derived term denoting “unit of heat” — originated nearly a 100 years earlier when it was introduced in Parisian lectures on heat engines. The calorie, associated today with a measure of food energy, has now become embedded in U.S. diet culture and nutrition science, for better or worse, and is still counted on to help people lose weight.
Dieters also rely on a lot of other things, for better or worse, including counting carbohydrates, unnecessarily eliminating gluten, swallowing special fat-burning supplements, and the list goes on.
Many of my clients want to lose weight as they define their health goals for the New Year. Between 10 and 20 pounds seems to be the sweet spot for feeling better and passing the zip test on a pair of jeans.
I’m their biggest fan club, but I shout out a different formula than counting calories. It has the beneficial side effect of reducing the number of calories in their diet, however.
My mantra: Reduce and replace saturated and trans fats in your diet with unsaturated fats or fat replacers, such as olestra, an artificial fat. I’ll get to sugar in a moment. No amount of saturated fat and trans fat is necessary for health and to stay healthy.
To review, saturated fats primarily come from animals. Butter is a prime example, but coconut oil, whether virgin or refined, is one you may not think of. Any solid fat is a saturated fat. Notice that I didn’t say eliminate fat from your diet. Good fats, the kind that come from vegetable oils, such as corn and canola, and certain veggies (avocados), are necessary to achieve and maintain optimal health.
By and large, trans fats are not naturally occurring. They’re vegetable oils with hydrogen added to them to make them more solid. If the label says, partially hydrogenated fat, that’s code for trans fat.
Trans fats hurt your heart. They lower your good cholesterol (HDL) and raise your bad (LDL). Ditto for saturated fats. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Even if a food label says zero trans fat, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows any food with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to be rounded-down to zero, leading consumers to underestimate their trans fat consumption. Despite efforts to close the loophole, it remains intact.
According to an article in Preventing Chronic Disease, an online journal published by the Centers for Disease Control, cookies, crackers, frozen entrees and sides, and even some seasoned grain mixtures are the worst trans-fat offenders. Bottom line: Read the food label and avoid products that provides more than 20 percent of their calories from fat, even the good kind. Five percent or below is low, which is great so long as sugars aren’t added to improve taste.
Turning to sugar, statistics vary, but the bottom line is the same: We’re eating too much. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans consume about 80 pounds of sugar a year, or 25 teaspoons a day. In caloric terms, that’s an extra 448 calories a day. While there is no recommended daily amount of sugar listed on food labels, health experts generally agree that Americans should limit their sugar intake to about 6 teaspoons a day. Use this guide when reading a food label: 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.
When you eat out, especially at fast-food chains, menu choices are generally overly endowed with fat (saturated and trans fat) and sugar as well as sodium and cholesterol. Even though sodium doesn’t add calories, it’s also bad for your heart because too much can lead to high blood pressure. Anything that exceeds 500 milligrams (mg) per serving is too high, given that adults should limit their daily intake to 2,300 mg, about a 2/3 teaspoon, a day (For African Americans and people 51-plus years, the limit is 1,500 mg a day because of a gene sensitivity).
I could dish out advice on how to make more judicious choices: Stay away from anything fried and battered. Order dressing on the side. Skip the mayo. Request whole-grain breads and pasta (more restaurants now supply these). Ask for extra vegetables, fruit or salad so that it fills half of your plate.
You’ve probably heard of all this advice before. It is good advice. With nutrition information for many restaurant menus now online, check those out, too, to determine which foods are lower in fat and sugar, and hence calories. Head over to the Trans Fat Help Center, a service of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has other great tips.
If you order a dish, and it arrives as a humongous portion, the best way to handle that is to immediately divide the dish into appropriate-sized portions and stash it in take-out containers to freeze for another time.