A well-balanced low-fat diet will improve your blood cholesterol levels, help you keep weight off, and give you more energy. On the other hand, a high-fat diet is linked with heart disease, some cancers and overweight.
On average, 38 per cent of the calories Canadians eat comes from fat. This means the average adult eats four to six pounds of pure fat in one month! Most of it is hidden in high-fat foods. By contrast, for health we should be aiming for no more than 30 per cent of our daily calories from fat. A variety of foods from the four food groups will provide all the fibre and nutrients you need while reaching this goal.
The key to success in reducing fat is to make permanent changes one step at a time. If you make drastic changes, you may not have a chance to learn to enjoy the new food experiences and are less likely to stick to them.
Pasta, rice, cereal and bread are great sources of low-fat, high-carbohydrate energy. In fact, Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends most of your energy come from grains and cereals. Choose fibre-rich whole-grain breads, cereal, whole-wheat pasta, and wild or brown rice more often.
Vegetables and fruits are good sources of fibre and generally low in fat. There is evidence that antioxidant vitamins (A, C, and E) play a role in decreasing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Choose lots of dark green, orange and yellow vegetables or fruit for these vitamins.
Frozen vegetables are convenient and quick for those in a hurry. The nutrient value of frozen vegetables is similar to that of fresh ones and they can be added easily to casseroles, canned soups, rice or macaroni dishes.
Choose spinach or dark green lettuce over iceberg, its pale cousin, since these dark green vegetables contain more nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are higher fibre choices than juices.
Milk products are an excellent source of calcium and protein. Don't cut this important food group out of your diet. Rather, if you are trying to lower your fat intake, choose low-fat skim or one-per-cent milk, yogurt or cottage cheese. Did you know a glass of skim milk has no fat? Limit your use of higher fat products such as cream cheese, cheeses made from whole milk, cream, ice cream and sour cream.
Almost 70 to 80 per cent of the calories in cheeses made from whole milk come from fat (fat calories). For lower fat choices, look for skim milk or part skim milk cheeses. Keep in mind, however, that these still may have 50 per cent or more of the total calories as fat. Try to limit the amount of cheese that you eat to less than one or two ounces a day. Keep in mind also that a little strong flavoured parmesan or aged cheese goes a long way.
Putting a limit on meat intake is a big step towards a lower fat diet for many people. Use lean meat, fish and poultry. Trim the fat from meats and the skin from poultry. Limit servings to six to eight ounces a day. The size of a deck of playing cards is about the size of three to four ounces of meat (= one serving).
A whopping 70 to 80 per cent of calories comes from fat in bologna, wieners, salami, bacon and sausages. Select smaller amounts and leaner deli meats. Choose fresh, frozen or water packed fish two or three times each week.
Legumes such as baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are high in protein and fibre but low in fat. Try to have legumes several times a week. Canned beans are a convenient and economical choice.
Sandwiches, vegetables and toast without butter or margarine can be simply delicious. If you must use a little spread, the best choice is a soft non-hydrogenated margarine, where the first ingredient on the label is water, oil or liquid oil.
Beware that many margarines, shortenings and fried foods have a high hydrogenated fat content. Hydrogenated fats are strongly linked with heart disease. Hydrogenation is the process used by manufacturers that changes a liquid oil into a solid or hydrogenated fat.
The difference between various types of brands of cooking oils is minor - what is more important is the amount you use. Regardless of which brands you use, it is important to use as little oil, margarine and other fats as possible.
Surprise! Salad dressing is the number one source of fat in the diet for many people. A Caesar or Greek salad weighs in at 70 per cent fat calories. Potato salad has 50 per cent fat calories. Calorie-reduced salad dressing and mayonnaise still has 1/2 to 2/3 as much fat as the "regular dressings" contain. In a restaurant, ask for dressing and sauce on the side, so you control the amount you use. The best choices on your salad are fresh lemon juice, vinegar, low-fat home made dressing (see Table 2), or a commercial fat-free dressing.
Regular meals are essential to healthy eating. This means having breakfast, lunch and dinner and maybe a healthy snack or two every day. Sounds simple doesn't it? The biggest mistake some people make is to skip meals to try to lose weight or because they are not hungry. This approach usually backfires and sets you up to snack on high-fat convenient foods or to overeat at supper.
What you put in the shopping cart is what you will eat at home. Make a list of healthy foods and follow it. Try to wheel past high-fat snack foods such as nuts, donuts, large muffins, nachos or potato chips. Choose lots of vegetables, fruit and whole-grain products. Choose small portions of lean meat, poultry and fish. Choose the lower fat versions of salad dressings, mayonnaise, yogurt, cheese, sour cream and margarine.
The main key to changing food habits is to replace your regular recipes gradually with lower fat recipes. Most people use about 10 basic recipes over and over. Change your recipes to reduce fat.
Use little or no oil or fats in the preparation of foods. Broil, barbecue, boil, microwave, stir fry, lightly grill or bake on a rack for low-fat preparation. Avoid frying foods or using rich sauces.
Experiment with new, healthier recipes. A wealth of spices, textures and fresh flavours can make dining an exciting experience, while keeping fat content low. Many people can lose weight by simply cooking low-fat meals and watching portion sizes. Rich desserts, candy and baked goods should be saved for special occasions.
Active living goes hand in hand with healthy eating. Being active means making physical activity a part of your everyday life. Activity helps you manage your weight and strengthen your heart, lungs and muscles. Food is a wonderful part of life. There are no miracle foods or bad foods. All foods can be part of a healthy diet. Remember, it's what you eat and what you do 90% of the time that makes the difference!