It’s a cauldron of diverse ingredients – a cup of vernacular, two whopping tablespoons of hearsay information, a healthy dose of contradictory articles, and a quart of deliberate misrepresentation devised by marketing departments of the national food producers – all thoroughly blended and brought to a steaming boil, creating vapors enough to obscure the clarity of even those with perfect vision. Ubiquitous enough to confuse a large portion of the population, it’s a recipe for self-perpetuating commotion. The subject matter? Why… fats, of course.
When products are labeled with terms like “fat-free” or “low-fat,” people infer that the product is low in calories when, in truth, it may be anything but slimming. The confusion occurs because overweight people are commonly called “fat,” and that suggests that if something is “fat-free” it must be good for the waistline. It certainly sounds reasonable; if only it were true. A simple enough example is caramel which is 100% fat-free, but certainly not a diet food.
Here then, is the skinny on fats. Basically, the foods we eat are comprised of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. (Henceforth, we’ll call them lipids, the term used by nutritionists and dietitians). Lipids are essential components of a balanced diet, instrumental in the processing of vitamins A, E, and K, of storing energy, and of assisting cells in the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the prime energy source produced by the body that does this little thing known as keeping us alive. In light of such information, it would seem then that “bring on the lipids” would be the order of the day. Not so fast; there are other considerations that need be taken into account.
There are two types of lipids, commonly called saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Our bodies need both types for proper function, but the majority of the lipids we consume ought to be the unsaturated variety because saturated fats increase the Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) level in the blood, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. The other factor to consider is that each gram of lipids consumed provides 9 calories of energy, as opposed to 4 calories per gram provided by carbohydrates and proteins. Since lipids provide more calories than either carbohydrates or proteins, we need to ensure we don’t consume them in abundance. That’s why there is so much emphasis on eating a balanced diet.
A balanced diet is nothing more than a meal plan that keeps an eye out on the protein/carbohydrate/lipid ratio which should be roughly 20% proteins, 50% carbohydrates, and 30% lipids. Thus, for an average middle-aged female who should be taking in around 1500 calories per day, she should have 300 of those calories coming from proteins, 750 from carbohydrates, and 450 from lipids. It’s not any more complicated than that. With that type of balanced intake, the body will be able to perform the functions necessary to keep it running properly. Of course, there are other factors that play a large role in staying fit in addition to a balanced diet. Among those things to do are keeping sodium content down, regular exercise, and ensuring sufficient intake of fresh fruits, berries, and vegetables. Come to think of it, there has been a great deal of talk about balanced diets, regular exercise, and low sodium meals; doctors have been trying to drown out the low fat confusion with this much clearer message. Maybe there’s something to it, after all.