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Home  > Health >  Weight Loss & Nutrition

Too Much of a Good Thing?
by Jennifer Strailey

It's a story of forbidden love, old flames rekindled and bitter betrayal. It's the story of my relationship with reduced-fat foods.

When low-fat potato chips first hit supermarket shelves, I could hardly contain my exuberance. In fact, I didn't. I ate like a kid again. With no guilt to govern me, I downed fistfuls of chips and pawed for the crumbs at the bottom of the family-size bag.

It was time for dessert. I'd earned it. Bring on the fat-free double fudge cookies. While they were not as ooey-gooey delicious as promised, they were fat-free, so I didn't complain. I popped those sugary devils like Tic Tacs.

Love lost

Tight pants that was my first clue. Who knew that demolishing bags of low-fat chips and cartons of fat-free cookies would lead to weight gain? For me, the words "fat-free" had eclipsed the bigger nutritional picture.

Those fat-free cookies contained plenty of sugar and calories. And the chips, which had won my adoration at "1 gram of fat per serving," came very close to regular chips on calorie count.

Fat intake is not the only factor in controlling weight. Check the caloric content of reduced-fat and fat-free snacks before you chow down.
Type of fat is also important. Saturated fats raise cholesterol, while monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) may lower cholesterol.
Some studies suggest that trans fats, like those used in many processed foods, may raise bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol.
Manufacturers are required to list only saturated and total fats. The words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" are red flags for trans fats.

Like many people, I had interpreted low-fat snacks as a license to eat with abandon. While reduced-fat products can be part of a healthful diet, their caloric content is often equal to that of their full-fat counterparts. What's more, to compensate for the missing fat, they often contain higher levels of other dietary demons such as sodium and sugar.

I can't get no satisfaction

Many of these products lack more than fat. They lack satisfaction. Little wonder Americans are heavier than ever despite the proliferation of low-fat goodies. The mouth-filling pleasure of a small hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cannot be found in a slab of fat-free cheddar no matter how you slice it.

There is a better way: The key to a lasting healthful diet is moderation. If you're satisfied with sensible servings of fat-free foods, look no further. If not, it's far better to indulge in small amounts of the real McCoy and reach satisfaction sooner, than to search for unrequited love in a box of fat-free cookies.

Play our Test the Strength of Snacks game

Click on the following foods to see how the low-fat varieties stack up to their full-fat counterparts:

Grated cheese
Potato chips
Ice cream
Tortilla chips

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• You Are What You Eat

Email this article

Related Stories
• Beware 'Stealth Fat:' The Silent Killer in Fast Foods
• You Are What You Eat

Related Books
• 10 Essential Foods, Lalitha Thomas

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