Making healthy choices, dietary fats.

Your body needs some fat to function normally. But it’s wise to choose the healthier types of dietary fat and then enjoy them — in moderation.

The good and the bad
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best choices. Look for products with little or no saturated fats, and avoid trans fats: Both increase blood-cholesterol levels and can increase your risk of heart disease. And keep in mind that all fats — the good stuff as well as the bad — are high in calories, so measuring and moderation are key.

The good:

  • Monounsaturated fats are found in olive, canola and peanut oils, as well as in avocados and most nuts.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are found in other plant-based oils, such as corn, sunflower, soybean, sesame and cottonseed oils. Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fats that help your cells function.

The bad:

  • Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods, such as meats, poultry, lard, egg yolks and whole-fat dairy products, including butter and cheese. They’re also in cocoa butter and coconut, palm and other tropical oils, which are used in many coffee lighteners, snack crackers, baked goods and other processed foods.
  • Trans fats — also called hydrogenated vegetable oils — are found in hardened vegetable fats, such as stick margarine and vegetable shortening. Lots of foods contain these unhealthy ingredients as well, including crackers, cookies, cakes, pies and other baked goods, as well as many candies, snack foods and french fries.

Choosing foods with the best types of dietary fat

First, focus on reducing foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Then emphasize food choices that include plenty of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). But a word of caution — don’t go overboard even on healthy fats. All fats, including the healthy ones, are high in calories. So consume MUFA-rich and PUFA-rich foods instead of other fatty foods, not in addition to them.

Here are some tips to help you make over the fat in your diet:

  • Use the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list when selecting foods. Look for the amount of trans fat listed. By law a serving of food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat can be labeled as 0 grams. Therefore, it is important to also check the ingredient list rather than just the Nutrition Facts label for the terms trans fat and partially hydrogenated.
  • Prepare fish, such as salmon and mackerel, instead of meat at least twice a week to get a source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Limit sizes to 4 ounces of cooked seafood a serving, and bake or broil seafood instead of frying.
  • Use liquid vegetable oil instead of solid fats. For example, saute with olive oil instead of butter, and use canola oil when baking.
  • Use olive oil in salad dressings and marinades.
  • Use egg substitutes instead of whole eggs when possible to cut back on the cholesterol in yolks.
  • Select milk and dairy products that are low in fat.

Olive oil: What are the health benefits?

All fats are dense in calories, but not all need to be shunned by those following a healthy eating plan. In fact, some fats — such as olive oil — are considered to be heart healthy. Why is this?

The main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is called monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are considered a healthy dietary fat. You may gain certain health benefits if your diet replaces saturated and trans fats with fats that are mostly unsaturated, such as MUFAs. Saturated fats are found in meat, high-fat dairy products, and tropical oils, such as palm-kernel oil. Fats that are “partially hydrogenated,” including some types of margarine and shortening, contain trans fats. Trans fats are also found in processed foods like salad dressings, cookies, snacks and fried foods.

By replacing the type of fat that you usually cook with — or spread on or pour over food — with olive oil, you’re making a good decision.

“Monounsaturated fat such as olive oil helps lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors,” says Donald Hensrud, MD, an associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at Mayo Clinic and medical editor-in-chief of The Mayo Clinic Diet. “For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol levels when substituted for saturated or trans fats in your diet. And some research shows that MUFAs may also benefit insulin levels and blood-sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.”

Just remember that even healthy fats, such as those in olive oil, are high in calories, so use them only in moderation. Choose MUFA-rich foods such as olive oil in place of other fatty foods — particularly butter and stick margarine — not in addition to them. Use olive oil conservatively to enhance the flavor of foods, such as roasted vegetables and stir-fries, or in marinades or dressings for salads. And remember that you can’t make unhealthy foods healthier simply by adding olive oil to them.

Food energy density: Feel full on fewer calories

Energy density is just another way to say caloric density — after all calories provide energy. In a nutshell: It is the number of calories in the amount or weight of food you eat. Foods that don’t have a lot of calories packed into each bite — like fruits and vegetables — are low in energy density. They also tend to be low in fat and high in water or fiber content. Foods high in energy density pack a lot of calories into a small volume of food; these include fatty foods, such as many fast foods, and foods high in sugar, such as sodas and candies.

Eat more low-density foods

How full you feel is determined by the volume and weight of food — not by the number of calories you consume. If you choose foods with low energy density — few calories for their bulk — you can eat more volume but consume fewer calories because of two key factors:

Water. Most vegetables and fruits contain a lot of water, which provides volume and weight but few calories. For example, half of a large grapefruit is 90 percent water with just 50 calories.

Fiber. The high fiber content in foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains adds bulk to your diet, so you feel full sooner. Fiber also takes longer to digest, making you feel full longer. Adults need about 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day, but the average adult consumes much less. Increase your fiber gradually while you increase the fluids in your diet.

Breakfast

Use these visual comparisons to help guide your selections.

For about 300 calories, you could have…
High-density meal: A single large glazed doughnut
or
Low-density meal: A bowl of bran flakes with skim milk, blueberries and a slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter


Lunch

For about 275 calories, you could have…
High-density meal: A candy bar
or
Low-density meal: A warm bowl of soup, loaded with fiber-rich beans and vegetables

Dinner

For about 600 calories, you could have…
High-density meal: A bacon cheeseburger
or
Low-density meal: A sandwich with soup, fresh fruits and veggies, and a few crackers

Snack

High-density snack: 1 ounce of potato chips
or
Low-density snack: 3 1/2 cups of air-popped popcorn

As you can see, you can eat fewer calories yet feel more satisfied by choosing foods that are low in energy density — in other words, you can have more food. Try reducing the fat and increasing the amount of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in your favorite dishes.

Beat your cold weather cravings: 8 effective techniques

The foods you crave are likely to be high in sugar, fats and carbohydrates — such as pizza, chocolate, cake and chips . Cravings can derail your efforts at weight control and may lead to binge eating, but you can learn how to manage them and stay on course with these tips.

  • Enjoy a small portion. Don’t give up these foods. In your overall healthy diet, include a small portion of the less healthy foods you crave. Better to enjoy a square of chocolate than to avoid it altogether.
  • Eat something healthy first. It’s often easier to eat less of the food you’re craving if you’re not ravenously hungry.
  • Keep the food you crave out of the house. Buy the item only when you plan to eat it, or order it at a restaurant.
  • Change your mental picture. When you experience a craving, replace the image of the food with a picture of yourself doing your favorite activity or some other pleasant image.
  • Distract yourself. Food cravings usually pass after 20 minutes. Try taking a walk or talking to a friend.
  • Chew gum. Chewing sugarless gum reduces hunger and cravings for sweet and salty snacks.
  • Get enough sleep and exercise. These habits help lower your levels of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite. Lack of sleep can lead to food cravings and overeating.
  • Substitute a healthier option. Satisfy your craving for something smooth and creamy with something low-fat or fat-free, such as yogurt, pureed fruit or buttermilk. Eat a piece of fruit as a healthy sweet snack.

Experiment to see which strategies work best for you so that you can control your cravings — not the other way around.

Confused about serving sizes?

Contrary to what you might think, portion control does not require taking drastic measures. Memorizing a complete inventory of food serving sizes or carrying measuring cups with you to meals just isn’t necessary. Simply use these serving size guide illustrations below to help you easily identify accurate portions.

Remember that a portion is not the same as a serving. A portion is an amount of food on your plate. A serving is a specific amount of food that equals a certain number of calories. Often the “portion” you eat contains more than one “serving.” Keep that in mind while cooking and making food selections.

 

How to track your eating habits

Research suggests that one of the best ways to change unhealthy eating habits is to first keep track of them, which makes sense considering most…

The key to weight loss: Make a mental shift

Sure, you want to lose weight, but are you in the right mindset to make it happen? Stop sabotaging your efforts with a self-defeating outlook and stay motivated to reach your goals with these effective techniques.

Negative beliefs and self-talk

The internal dialogue you have with yourself influences your actions. Thoughts such as “I’ll never lose weight” or “I’m no good at exercising” can weaken your self-esteem and stall your progress. Replace these thoughts with positive statements. Instead of: “I can’t stick with an exercise program,” tell yourself: “I can meet one realistic goal today.”

Unrealistic expectations

Many people imagine that losing weight will solve all their problems. Your life will likely change with weight loss — but probably not in all the ways you imagine. Losing weight doesn’t guarantee a better social life or more satisfying job. Keep your expectations focused on those very real benefits like more energy and higher self-esteem.

Inflexibility

Words such as always, never or must place undue pressure on you. Telling yourself you’ll never eat chocolate again or you must walk two miles a day can lead to guilt-ridden lapses. Instead, treat yourself now and then in ways that make sense — when you’re out to dinner with friends, not when you’re feeling sad.

All-or-nothing thinking

One setback doesn’t mean failure. If you eat too much one day, you haven’t blown your plan. Counteract this kind of thinking with moderation — no “good” and “bad” foods, for example, and it’s OK to have dessert once in a while. Remind yourself you can get back on track tomorrow.

Be flexible on your weight-loss journey. Don’t expect perfection. If you have a slip-up, learn from it and move on.

How to eat more and lose weight

Feel full on fewer calories? It might sound like another gimmick for weight loss, but it’s not. This concept is called energy density, and it’s an important weight-loss tool.

Weight loss with more food, fewer calories
Simply put, energy density is the number of calories (energy) in a specific amount of food. High energy density means that there are a lot of calories in a little food. Low energy density means there are few calories in a lot of food.

When you’re striving for weight loss, your goal is to eat low-energy-dense foods. This helps you feel fuller on fewer calories. Here’s a quick example with raisins and grapes. Raisins have a high energy density — 1 cup of raisins has about 434 calories. Grapes have a low energy density — 1 cup of grapes has about 82 calories. You may feel full after 1 cup of either fruit, but the calorie difference is astounding!

Vegetables
Most vegetables are low in calories but high in volume or weight. Many vegetables contain water, which provides weight without calories. Examples include salad greens, asparagus, green beans, broccoli and zucchini. To add more vegetables to your diet, top your pasta with sautéed vegetables instead of meat or cheese sauce. Decrease the meat portion on your plate and increase the amount of vegetables. Add vegetables to your sandwiches. Snack on raw vegetables.

Fruits
Practically all types of fruit fit into a healthy diet. But some fruits are lower calorie choices than others are. Whole fresh, frozen and canned fruits without syrup are good options. In contrast, fruit juices and dried fruits are concentrated sources of natural sugar and therefore have a high energy density — more calories — and they don’t fill you up as much. To fit more fruits into your diet, add blueberries to your cereal in the morning. Try mango or peach slices on whole-wheat toast with a little peanut butter and honey. Or toss some mandarin orange and peach slices into a salad.

Carbohydrates
Many carbohydrates are either grains or made from grains, such as cereal, rice, bread and pasta. Whole grains are the best option because they’re higher in fiber and other important nutrients. Emphasize whole grains by simply choosing whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain cereal instead of refined grains. Still, because many carbohydrates are higher in energy density, keep an eye on portion sizes.

Protein and dairy
These include food from both plant and animal sources. The healthiest lower energy-dense choices are foods that are high in protein but low in fat, such as legumes (beans, peas and lentils, which are also good sources of fiber), fish, skinless white-meat poultry, fat-free dairy products and egg whites.

Fats
While fats are high-energy-dense foods, some fats are healthier than others. Include small amounts of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet. Nuts, seeds, and oils, such as olive, flaxseed and safflower oils, contain healthy fats.

Sweets
Like fats, sweets are typically high in energy density. Good options for sweets include those that are low in added fat and contain healthy ingredients, such as fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Examples include fresh fruit topped with low-fat yogurt, a cookie made with whole-wheat flour or a scoop of low-fat ice cream. The keys to sweets are to keep the serving size small and the ingredients healthy. Even a small piece of dark chocolate can fit into a weight-loss plan.

Making energy density work for you
When you stick to the concept of energy density, you don’t have to feel hungry or deprived. By including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains in your diet, you can feel full on fewer calories. You may even have room in your diet for a tasty sweet on occasion. By eating larger portions of low-energy-dense foods, you squelch those hunger pains, take in fewer calories and feel better about your meal, which contributes to how satisfied you feel overall.