The skinny on fats

Aug. 27, 2013 @ 12:34 PM

Most medical and nutritional professionals agree: ultra-high protein, low-carbohydrate, high fat weight loss plans not only aren’t healthy, but sometimes trigger health problems.

Years ago, I would have agreed with that view and then said, without reservation: “Fat-free or very low-fat food plans make the most sense and can easily help many to lose weight and maintain good health.”

At that same time I banned butter from my refrigerator and life, certain that butter’s cholesterol and saturated fat did the devil’s work. Margarine, a no cholesterol, lower-saturated-fat spread that first gained widespread popularity during World War II due to butter shortages, seemed to have, once again, come to the rescue.

As the years went by after 1992, we all learned that margarine was a wolf dressed in grandma’s clothing waiting to elevate Little Red Riding Hood’s good cholesterol and shorten her life with hydrogenated (trans) fats. Butter didn’t magically become health food, however small amounts of butter used judiciously will probably turn out to be far healthier than margarine.

Most fats carry some health risks and at that time I believed that almost fat-free food plans (all foods have some fat, including watermelon and celery) must be risk free. Yes ... and ... no. If it were possible to consistently consume almost no fat, the health problems caused by high-fat food plans could disappear. However, our bodies require certain fats, named essential fatty acids, because we can’t produce them, and need them as a source for physical functions, like turning food into energy.

There’s nothing unhealthy about almost fat free foods, like watermelon, celery, or Navy beans. The true problem lies in manufactured fat-free or low-fat foods, like reduced-fat cookies or low-fat frozen yogurts.

Look at how food manufacturers ended-up perverting what seemed to be a great and healthy idea: reduced-fat and fat-free foods. I’m an oatmeal raisin cookie fan; so let’s compare apples to apples. Archway bakes cookies that many enjoy: a single 26 gram serving of its oatmeal raisin cookie delivers 107 calories, 3.5 fat grams and 9.3 sugar grams. Its fat free oatmeal raisin cookie weighs-in at 31 grams; delivering 106 calories, 0.49 fat grams and 13.8 sugar grams.

At one time I believed no fat; no foul and consumed fat -ree foods with abandon. I was wrong; calories count. Ounce for ounce Archway’s fat-free cookie actually delivered 14.5 percent fewer calories, not an enormous difference. Since Archway’s fat-free oatmeal trimmed three fat grams, at nine calories per gram their fat free cookies should have lost 25-percent of the calories.

But, when you know the difference in sugar content of each cookie, you can readily see what happened. Archway added sugar for the trimmed fat, minimizing the caloric difference. I’m fairly certain my “weigh day” results would be similar consuming too much of either cookie. Drat.

It seems simple, but it took me a while to “get it” too. Fresh fruits and vegetables don’t just offer healthful vitamins and minerals; they also make it possible to eat big while not overindulging. Lean meats and fish, skim milk, low-fat yogurt, high fiber, low fat beans and grains all work to build health and maintain a healthy weight.

Doesn’t a ripe, juicy peach taste and smell better than a processed, salty, greasy piece of formed deep-fried chicken chunk? It does to me.

Almost 30 years ago I stumbled over a page of fruit salads and dressings in Gourmet magazine. I’ve never been good at combining the right fruit, in the right quantities for a balanced salad and took their lead. Two of those salads became my regular favorites. For a slightly richer taste, use low-fat instead of fat-free yogurt.

Kiwi, Orange and Banana Salad with Honey-Nutmeg Dressing

2 navel oranges

2 ripe bananas

3 ripe kiwis

1/4 cup plain, fat-free or low-fat yogurt

2 teaspoons clover honey (or other mild honey)

A pinch of nutmeg


With a sharp knife cut all the skin off the orange exposing the fruit inside, cut into sections and place in a medium bowl. Peel the bananas, halve lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices and add to the bowl. Peel the furry skin from the kiwis, halve lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices and ad to the bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, honey and nutmeg. Pour over the fruit and stir and fold the fruit until coated. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition values per serving with fat-free yogurt: 129 calories(5 percent from fat), 0.7 g fat(0.1 g saturated fat), 31.4 g carbohydrates, 4.9 g fiber, 2.5 g protein, zero cholesterol, 14 mg sodium.


Blueberry and Strawberry Salad with Cinnamon-Yogurt Dressing

1/4 cup plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons clover honey (or other mild honey)

1 pint blueberries, picked over, rinsed and drained

1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut in half lengthwise

Add the yogurt, cinnamon, and clover honey to a medium mixing bowl and whisk together until combined. Add the blueberries and strawberries; gently stir and fold until coated with dressing. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition values per serving with fat-free yogurt: 81 calories(6.9 percent from fat), 0.6 g fat( 0.1 g saturated fat), 19.2 g carbohydrates, 3.8 g fiber, 1.2 g protein, zero cholesterol, 17 mg sodium.