I have a long list of questions I’m asked all the time but are hard to answer. Last week I was asked – for what seemed the umpteenth time – another question that I’m adding to my list: “How much fat should I eat”?
The answer, as you may have guessed, is “it depends” – or, sometimes, the equally vague “as little as possible”. That’s because specific recommendations for fat intake are often expressed as a percentage of calories – as in, “no more than 25% of your calories should come from fat”. For most people, that’s not terribly useful, since it requires that they a) know how many calories they should be eating; b) multiply that number by 25% to figure out how many calories from fat they should be eating; and finally, c) divide the answer obtained in step b) by 9 – since there are 9 calories in a gram of fat – to figure out how many fat grams they should eat per day.
If you want to try figure all that out, it’s up to you – but I think there’s an easier way.
Rather than focusing on a specific target and counting your daily fat grams, you can just follow these guidelines for a low fat diet instead. If you do, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll be in the ballpark of “25% of calories from fat” – and there’s no calculator required.
- Stay away from deep fried foods – like French fries, snack chips and crispy fried meats, fish, and veggies. Obvious, yes, but eliminating fried foods and greasy snack foods cuts a huge amount of fat out of your diet.
- Use nutrition labels to help you find low fat packaged items like cookies, crackers, breads, muffins and cereals.
- Use low fat versions of salad dressings, cheeses, milk, yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream and ice cream.
- Eat more poultry breast, fish, shellfish, egg whites, nonfat dairy products and soy products for protein; they have much less fat than steaks, ground meats and sausage.
- Reduce the fats you use in cooking. Saute in broth or wine instead of oil, replace part of the fat in baked goods with yogurt or applesauce, and season foods with herbs, spices, lemon, onions, garlic, chilis and other seasonings rather than relying on heavy sauces, gravies and butter.
- When you eat out, order meats, fish or poultry grilled, broiled, poached, roasted or baked. If the starchy part of the meal is likely to be fatty, you can skip it altogether and have double vegetables instead.
- Have fresh fruit or sorbet for dessert rather than pastries and ice cream, and ditch the snack chips in favor of raw veggies and fresh fruits.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.