With all the focus on carbohydrate, it’s easy to forget about fat, but that would be a mistake. Fat contains a lot of calories (9 per gram), so eating too much fat can lead to weight gain. Eating too much saturated and trans fats can additionally raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level, which raises the risk for heart disease. Trans fats also lower the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol, so many consider them even worse than saturated fats.
Most people are currently advised to get less than 10% of their calories from saturated and trans fats. For a person who eats 1800 calories per day, that’s less than 20 grams of saturated and trans fats. For a person who eats 2,000 calories per day, that’s less than 22 grams of saturated and trans fats.
People who have coronary heart disease or high LDL cholesterol (100 mg/dl or higher) are advised to consume an even smaller amount of saturated and trans fats: less than 7% of calories. That’s less than 14 grams of saturated and trans fats in an 1800-calorie-per-day diet and less than 15 grams in a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.
Counting the grams of saturated fats in packaged food products is easy because saturated fat content is listed in the Nutrition Facts panel. Counting the grams of trans fats became easy in January 2006, when a new FDA labeling regulation made it mandatory to list them in the Nutrition Facts panel. Some food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products (and labeled the products “trans fat free”). If a food is not labeled “trans fat free” and trans fats are not listed in the Nutrition Facts panel, look at the ingredients list for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. If they are present, the product almost certainly contains some trans fats.
Although saturated fats in general are to be avoided, there is a ray of light where the fat contained in chocolate is concerned. While this fat, which comes from cocoa butter, is highly saturated, about one-third of it is oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, and another third is stearic acid, a saturated fat that does not seem to affect cholesterol levels. And chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may actually have some cardiovascular health benefits. This is because cocoa, one of the main ingredients in chocolate, is a plant-based product that is rich in flavonoids. According to a study published in the February 2003 issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the flavonoids in chocolate have a variety of healthful effects, primarily as antioxidants (antioxidants, it is believed, help reduce damage done to body cells by substances called free radicals). Adequate consumption of flavonoids may reduce the harmful effects of LDL cholesterol and perhaps even lower blood pressure. This should not be taken as a license to eat chocolate with abandon, however, since simply adding chocolate to your diet will likely result in weight gain. Most processed chocolate contains a fair share of calories, fat, and sugar.
One of the hardest parts of following a weight-loss diet is giving up foods or beverages you like or eating or drinking a lot less of them than you’d like. To counter the idea that a low-carbohydrate diet can’t include beer, numerous beer makers have introduced “low-carbohydrate” beer. (Click here to see nutrition information for some common regular, light, and low-carbohydrate beers.) However, because the FDA does not consider alcohol a food, alcoholic beverages are exempt from food’s mandatory nutrition labeling, so it can be tough for a consumer to know exactly what he’s getting.