“In the matter of fat restriction, we have done a good job of educating consumers” stated an American Heart Association report in 1998. However, years later, the low-carb craze has made it all too easy to forget the effects of fat on health and weight control.
In one sense, fat matters because it is essential to our bodies. Fat is an important energy source and provides insulation and a protective cover for vital organs. Fat also enables your body to transport, store and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Omega-3 fats are particularly important as they are thought to protect against cancer and heart disease. However, because our bodies can’t produce them, they must be obtained from food. Your best sources include fish (particularly salmon), flaxseed, soybeans, and walnuts.
The flipside of course, is that fat matters because you can have too much of it.
Too much “bad” fat in particular will dramatically increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. “Bad fats” are the artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising saturated and trans fats found mainly in processed foods and animal foods (saturated fat in milk, cream, butter, fatty meats) and baked and fried food products (trans fat in hydrogenated oils).
For weight control, don’t forget that fat-laden foods are calorie dense; every gram of fat equates to nine calories. Fatty foods may appeal to your taste buds, but if you are serious about weight control, be aware of hidden sources of fat that you may be unwittingly consuming in your food.
Carbs do count. You can’t live without them, but you can certainly live better with more complex, high-fiber carbs than with refined, high-sugar ones.
Carbohydrates are your best source of energy. Without them, your body reverts to stores of protein and fat, which is bad for health and slows weight loss. Carbs are also your “main brain food” – without enough carbs you lose concentration and feel mentally fatigued. Carbs are also essential for fat metabolism and maintaining the nervous system and red blood cells.
However, too many refined carbs will count negatively toward your weight loss and healthy eating goals. Refined carbs include sugar, candy, white bread, potatoes, white rice, cookies and other highly-refined and processed foods; these should all be limited. Such foods only provide short-term energy and satiation and also lead to blood sugar crashes, setting you up for cravings – the more you eat, the more you will want to eat.
If you really want to make carbs “count” towards healthy eating and weight control, you should opt for high-fiber carbohydrate foods such as beans, vegetables, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and fruit. As well as being full of good nutritional value, these go into your bloodstream slowly and steadily, keeping your blood glucose levels stable and your hunger and mood swings at bay. All this makes it easier to lose weight; if you’re well-satiated, you’re less likely to overeat.
One gram of carbohydrate equals four calories. Health experts say around 40-60 percent of your daily calories should come from carbs, depending on your overall calorie intake.
But calories are still king!
Why are calories king? It’s a simple equation really. If you only monitor fat, you’re bound to eat too many carbs; if you only count carbs, you’ll overdo the fat. But by balancing calories, you catch both carbs and fat in the same net.
If you pull away the trappings of any effective weight loss program, you’ll find all that’s left in the end is calorie balancing – calories are the bottom line. It’s a simple, logical truth that how much you put into your body determines how much your body weighs. If you pour water into a glass, it gets heavier – and it doesn’t get any lighter until the water is used. Altering the color of the water, the bottle it comes from, or the shape of the glass doesn’t make a drop of difference!
It’s the same with your body. If you eat more calories than your body can use, you gain weight. Of course, if you eat fewer calories than your body uses, you lose weight, but… if you eat too few calories your metabolism may slow down and burn calories at a slower rate. Effective weight loss is all about balancing calories-in with calories-out. For most people, this means figuring out how many calories you need per day to retain your current weight, and then eating less and exercising more to reduce that calorie intake by 500-700. (Click on the Free Profile link below to calculate your recommended calorie intake for weight loss).
Tips for calorie control
When counting calories, keep these helpful tips in mind:
Read labels carefully. Most packaged foods list calorie, fat and carbs on the package but be sure to check the serving size. For example, a muffin that lists 160 calories per serving might seem fine, but, hidden in smaller letters you might find that there are actually two servings in the one muffin – 320 calories. Also allow for extra calories in packaged foods, which base calorie content on net weight (the minimum legal weight), but the actual weight can be up to 50 percent more!
Control portion sizes. Most restaurant servings are several times the portion sizes listed anywhere! If you think one plate equals one serving, think again. If you can’t calculate how many actual serving sizes the meal equates to, simply avoid extra calories by eating less of it. Portion control equals calorie control equals weight control.
Keep track of what you eat. There’s no way you can control your caloric intake if you don’t know how many calories you are eating! Most people who only “guess” underestimate the amount of calories they actually eat by 25 percent. Three words: Write-It-Down!
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Having said that, don’t obsess about being 100 percent accurate all the time. Remember, it’s not the five calories here or there that are the problem. It’s the hundreds of extra calories you habitually eat day in, day out that cause weight gain.